It takes an artist of violinist Isaac Stern's stature to plumb the depths of old war horses and come up with fresh insights. Last night at the Kennedy Center he explored, for the umpteenth time, what the Franck Violin Sonata had to say for itself. He pursued his quest with confident restraint and almost self-effacing lyricism and discovered an honest Gallic simplicity that is usually hidden under waves of passionate bowing.
His partner in all this was pianist Andrew Wolf, who moved through the music with the same fluid grace that marked Stern's performance.
The rest of the program was a contrast to the Franck in every respect. There was the Brahms youthful (and not awfully good) C Minor Scherzo, Schubert's vigorous and tuneful G Minor Sonata No. 3 and the big Bartok Sonata No. 1 with its echoes of Debussy that vie with sections of visceral dance.
None of these is a war horse, but rather each is a youthful work, imbued more with physical than emotional energy. Stern treated the opening Brahms as a fanfare. The Schubert had an inner strength and a delightful simplicity, and Bartok's complexities were handled with a straightforward, literal reading that combined power, accuracy and intimacy.
These pieces were splendid themselves and set the stage perfectly for the overripe Franck.