Stern/Ormandy/Tchaikovsky/ Mendelssohn

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Tchaikovsky: Violin Concert

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto

Isaac Stern, violin / Eugene Ormandy, conductor / Philadelphia Orchestra

Columbia MS 6062

At one time or another, Isaac Stern would probably have been the name you thought of when somebody mentioned a violin, while Eugene Ormandy tends to headline, along with Herbert von Karajan, every thrift-store classical record you come across nowadays. (On Discogs, his total discography comes out to 1,097, compared to Karajan’s whopping 1,566 recordings.) Stern and Ormandy played together a lot, as in practically every major concerto for violin and orchestra.

On this Columbia release, they perform two pillars of the violin repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s in D major (1878) and Mendelssohn’s in E minor (completed in 1844). Each is in some way a mirror-image of Romantic and Classical persuasions.

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Funny enough, the Tchaikovsky was proclaimed too modern by its dedicatee. It didn’t really find an audience for several performances. Mendelssohn’s concerto, on the other hand, with its soaring orchestral parts and playful/soulful solos, was a smash hit when it debuted; one of the composer’s friends said it rivaled Hamlet for quotable moments.

Stern’s playing is never stern; instead, it’s intimate, especially in the Mendelssohn, where the pacing and vibrato are expansive. His violin is an inhaling and exhaling thing that makes every bowing glide sing. Ormandy’s PO responds with thoroughly voluptuous orchestral coloring.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Scotland

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Four overtures from Mendelssohn in a London recording from the 1950s. Fingal’s Cave, the most recognizable of them, is an actual island called Staffa in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, known for its unearthly acoustical effects and black basalt columns. The composer visited the cave, or at least sailed by it, in 1829 and finished his standalone concert overture one year later, along with his Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”) around the same time. An Anglo-Saxon warrior stands on the sleeve, wearing a pelt and a leonine face. He’s the kind of figure who might have resided in the cave, or maybe he’s the namesake of the Giant’s Causeway on the Irish coast, which geologists believe to have reached all the way to the Hebrides at some point.