Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Minneapolis 1943

Here’s a new name to add to the hall of fame, violinists’ division, 1943 supplement. It is Isaac Stern, and its bearer, on the occasion of his debut with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra last night, produced what can modestly be termed a sensation.

Stocky and assured, a full blown personality despite his youth, Stern performed the Mendelssohn Concerto as if he made it, owned it and had lived with it comfortably for years. He played it straight and he played it clean. There were no soulful flourishes, no obnoxious efforts at “personalized” tone, no waste motion.

What he offered was an exceptionally firm and lucid line which kept its shape in the fast figures and the slow. His tone had both fibre and singing quality. His pitch was infallible. He meshed with the orchestra at every point in a performance unique for its drive, pithiness and fluency. He refused to “smear” the andante’s melody but just let it soar—a style as free as it was exact.

Well, you can’t ask for much more than that from any violinist. Stern’s artistry impressed you all the more when you sensed that behind it was no prima donna personality, but a serious, unpretentious musician. This was amply confirmed in his performance, as encore, of the fugue from the Bach G Minor Sonata.

Dimitri Mitropoulos handled the work like a juggler with six balls in the air, never dropping any. The first and last movements had a keyed-up tension which was wholly devoid of strain, and the lovely slow movement was allowed to breathe and sing in the most unfettered way. And the partnership he established between orchestra and soloist was as close as that of Damon and Pythias.

His buoyant control of the orchestra, a marvelous combination of firmness and flexibility, was evident all evening, first in the Mozart “Magic Flute” Overture, which was brought to a nice boil in fast, muscular phrasing and with a style that was both impetuous and light . . .

And then the Schumann Fourth Symphony—prime example of 19th-Century Romanticism which makes you wish that Germany, somehow, could have been “frozen” as it was when its great music masters were its great men, not its militarists.

Can you find anywhere a more poignant and compact summary of Romantic style, so dewy-fresh and spontaneous and heartfelt, than in the two central movements of this symphony? I doubt it. You can have the two other movements, where Schumann tried to summon, not quite successfully, the hammer-blows of Beethoven.

And if I were banished to a desert isle, and could have only one of these movements, I’d take the third, with the droll, brisk angularity of its leading theme and the down-leaps of the violins, and that tremulous and beautiful trio. The performance of the whole work was exemplary, virile in the masculine movements, sensitive in the feminine.

The Morton Gould “Spirituals” for a string choir and orchestra was a highly burnished exhibit of contemporary Americana, and a grand finale. Gould’s scoring is striking and persuasive, and he has caught the feeling not only of spirituals but of American tempo and American sound. Highlights were the sly and clandestine mood of “A Little Bit Of Sin,” the tenderness and hushed quality of the “Sermon,” and the engine of rhythm generated in the “Jubilee.” This calls for a repetition at a twilight concert.

John K. Sherman, writing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on December 18, 1943.


The Star-Tribune review was accompanied by this photograph of the violinist, taken at his Minneapolis hotel in the days immediately preceding his Minneapolis Symphony debut.

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