Brahms Violin Concerto and Double Concerto Sony

Déjà Review: this review was first published in 2001 and the recording is still available.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto
Double Concerto
Isaac Stern (violin)
Leonard Rose (cello)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 1973/74, ADD
Sony SBK46335 [74]

Having been brought up, so to speak, on a CBS bargain box of the four Brahms Concertos the experience of reviewing this CD has been a nostalgic voyage. At the time (early 1970s) that box of LPs seemed and was matchless value. It offered these two works (same performances) as well as Serkin/Szell in the two piano concertos. I seem to recall that the set managed to squeeze all four works onto three LPs by use of long sides and breaking works across discs.

Ormandy and the Philadelphia are untamed partners in Brahms’ musical alembic. The orchestra’s silver and golden flames, their passion and resinous fire bears all before it. The sound is reassuringly flawed in the way of CBS recordings from the late 1950s onwards into the mid 1970s: that peculiar combination of closeness of focus and a graininess denying ultimate refinement to the massed strings. This however has an amplitude and tonal generosity superior to the Szell Brahms set also on Essential Classics.

Taking the Double Concerto first, Leonard Rose endows the work with eloquence and a surfeit of the most glorious tone. One of the finest cellists in America you cannot doubt his fiery application, his lyric ‘stickiness’ and smoky passion all intensified by the close-miked recording. Rather like Yo Yo Ma’s pizzicati in the finale of the Finzi Cello Concerto (a Lyrita LP from 1979) Rose’s pizzicati are imperiously loud. It matters nothing that you would never hear the music like this in a concert hall. Each melodic ‘collision’ with Stern is assuredly calculated in its ecstatic chordal effect. The music is always phrased with a warmth too hot to rest your hand on. Stern is brilliant and his unanimity with Rose is, without doubt, down to their trio work with Eugene Istomin for which the foundations were laid in Casals’ Prades Festivals. In the Violin Concerto Stern draws on powerful tone, a vibrant warmth and a fully developed life-vision. Though I still wonder why Philips have not reissued Hermann Krebbers’ recording, which had some celebrity during the days of LP, the listener who comes to Brahms through these performance is likely to be spoilt when they go to concerts or encounter alternative versions.

A towering bargain. Fortunate the new listener who learns her/his Brahms through these works.

Rob Barnett

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