- Composer: Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
- Artist: Isaac Stern (1920-2001), Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa
- Title: Violin Concerto
- Released: 1983
- Format: CD
- Genre: Classical
- Beverage of Choice: Sparkling water
Those of you reading this post who may dismiss ‘classical’ music as elitist, academic or boring please don’t miss out! It will take less than half an hour to listen to this amazing piece of music and have your mind changed forever. The sweet purity of Isaac Stern‘s virtuoso violin playing grabs the ear right from the very first phrase and begins an emotional journey that ends in total satisfaction but also the desire to hear more.
Stern is inarguably one of the greatest musicians of all time and a rock star in the world of ‘serious’ music, his rendition of this famous piece is flawless, albeit with a slightly different pacing (slower) than other recordings I’ve heard. This leads to a heightened engagement with the music as your mind has marginally more time to process what you’re hearing and relate that to feelings that are stirred up in your heart and soul.
And pure emotion this is; by turns sweet and pure, frantic and loud, emphatic and euphoric, pensive and melancholy – it’s a wonderful mix of light and shadow that invites your imagination on a journey filled with adventure, delight and reward.
The first movement begins with a sweet phrasing and a sweeping statement of intent that leads to a soaring, precise and sometimes overwhelming succession of notes that culminate in the whole orchestra getting involved with passion and gusto. At the 7 minute mark or so there is solo violin break that sounds as if it’s two instruments playing simultaneously; it isn’t , it’s simply one of the most gifted artists ever showing us what being the best looks like. This is the classical music equivalent of heavy metal guitar shredding. The violin in these hands tells us a story of love, drama, comedy, sorrow and ultimately, pure joy.
Thereafter the orchestra and violin restate the major theme leading to the end of the movement with high drama and speeding up the pace to a flourishing conclusion. Listen carefully here; there is a single french horn holding a sustained note that leads into the start of the second movement (Andante). It sets the stage for one of the most beautiful and compelling melodies in all of music. Stern’s phrasing is akin to a blues guitarist’s ‘feel’ for the song; small hesitations, punctuation and sustains in the replaying connect my heart directly to his and fill me up with emotion. This is special, not ever to be taken for granted and it moves me every time I hear it.
The music swells and dips, carrying one along like a feather on the wind, rising and falling , never quite touching the ground, dancing and spinning until, having run out of energy, glides to a quiet and contented rest.
The third and final movement returns to the central theme with violin ably supported throughout by the entire orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa (another rock star of the classical world), tripping along with exquisite precision and pace, hundreds of notes in a flash; the mood is merry and light with bursts of fireworks against the sky. Concentrate on the arpeggios and pizzicato (plucking the violin strings) and hear how perfectly each note is rendered yet without calling attention to the technicality; no notion of ego, just a human allowing the music to flow through his hands into the instrument and out to the world for us to enjoy (relish really).
Everything ends way to early, it all goes by in a heartbeat having stolen your mind away for a half hour and you’ll ‘wake up’ to the real world wanting to listen to it all over again. Another one of my Desert Island Discs that has been at the heart of my love for music for a long time.
Comment below if this doesn’t challenge you, make you feel more alive and expand your notion of what it is to ‘listen’ to music; so I can send you a sympathy card 🙂