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David Oistrakh. Violin Concertos – Historic Russian Archives
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 (1844) [27.46]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 25 October 1949
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Violin Concerto in A minor Op.53 (1883) [33.18]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 7 September 1949
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor Op.99 (1948-55) [36.31]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Yevgeny Mravinsky, recorded 18 November 1956
Violin Concerto No.2 in C sharp minor Op.129 (1967) [28.13]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 27 September 1968
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Symphonie Espagnole (1873) [31.42]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/ Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 1 January 1947
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Scottish Fantasy Op.46 (1880) [31.29]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 24 December 1960
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806) [43.32]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 25 December 1962
Romance for Violin and Orchestra No.1 in G major Op.40 [7.32]
Romance for Violin and Orchestra No.2 in F major Op.50 [9.11]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 27 September 1968
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)

Violin Concerto in C major Op.48 (1949) [15.48]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Carl Eliasberg, recorded 12 May 1949
Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Concert Suite for Violin and Orchestra Op.28 [41.50]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Kurt Sanderling, recorded 20 September 1960
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Violin Concerto No.1 in D major Op.19 (1938) [20.06]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 7 September 1963
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Violin Concerto in D major Op.35 (1880) [34.27]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 27 September 1968
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto in D minor Op.47 (1906) [29.18]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 14 February 1966
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Violin Concerto No.1 Sz.36 [20.06]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 24 December 1960
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)

Violin Concerto No.1 Op.35 (1916) [22.41]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Kurt Sanderling, recorded 20 September 1960
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Violin Concerto (1939) [26.32]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 25 December 1962
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Violin Concerto in A minor Op.82 (1905) [21.42]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/ Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 1 January 1947
Mazurka-Oberek in D major for violin and orchestra [9.37]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Gabril Yudin, recorded 25 February 1950
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)

Poème for violin and orchestra Op.25 (1897) [15.50]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 15 March 1948
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Tzigane, Rhapsodie de concert, for violin and orchestra (1924) [9.07]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded 24 December 1960
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Violin Concerto in D major (1931) [20.43]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin, recorded 8 February 1963
Nicolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)

Violin Concerto in D minor Op.44 (1938) [35.33]
State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR/Alexander Gauk [10 January 1939]
David Oistrakh (violin) with accompaniments as above
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92609 [10 CDs 60.01 + 64.46 + 63.24 + 60.04 + 57.47 + 54.38 + 49.43 + 49.22 +56.35 + 56.31]


Brilliant Classics has given us some valuable historic material – not much, but some – amongst which their Gilels set has probably taken pride of place up to now. But here comes an Oistrakh box of concertos that stakes out a high place for collectors’ enthusiasm. All the items under discussion are leased from Gostelradiofund and I’ve tried to disentangle the known, the previously limited releases, the previously unreleased and the bolt from the blue (Miaskovsky). For ease of reading, rather than a Joycean stream of consciousness, here are a few thoughts.

Mendelssohn

From 1949 with Kondrashin and a famous 78 set, much reissued. Originally on Melodiya D017327/33 and other 78 issues it’s seen service on a raft of budget LP labels such as Colosseum, Delta, Everest, Gala, Murray Hill, Tap and Vox. The violin is characteristically forward, the tuttis don’t register with ideal weight and there’s a bloated sound perspective, gaudy and not especially attractive; terrible side join at 4.19 (was this taken from an LP transfer?). The performance is very espressivo and romanticised, hugely affectionate, sometimes heavily so with real yearning intensity in the slow movement. In the finale Oistrakh constantly changes tone colour, bow pressure and vibrato usage to stunning effect though it’s sometimes a tad relentless. The recording can turn his tone a touch brittle and there’s another bad side join just after the pizzicati in the finale.

Dvořák

Sensibly coupled with the 1949 Mendelssohn because this was recorded a month earlier with the same conductor and orchestra. Less widely distributed than the Mendelssohn but you may have caught it rummaging in boxes and bins on La Chant du Monde, Colosseum, Eurodisc, Musidisc, Vanguard et al. Originally issued by Melodiya on D03064/65. Clear if rather clinical sound, abundant lyricism; not as febrile as Haendel, not as tightly coiled as Příhoda, with more overt expression than Suk, his is a famous interpretation. Fine series of diminuendi in the slow movement; sufficient orchestral detail to catch the ear, with the violin once more heavily spotlit. Astounding display of tonal and timbral contrasts between the upper and lower strings in the finale.

Shostakovich 1

Leningrad/Mravinsky, 1956. Once more a famed commercial disc, first issued on Melodiya D5540/1, D03658/9 and D033449/52. Reissued on labels ranging alphabetically from Bruno to Telefunken – to take in Period and Parlophone. His live Czech performance of the following year was faster and tighter but this recording of the work is an astounding contribution to recorded music and one that renders specifics unnecessary. It’s obviously not to be confused with the New York/Mitropoulos recording of the same year on Columbia. Though other examples of his way with the work have appeared, not least those with his son Maxim, this and the Mitropoulos are the reference recordings. Only demerits - the intense focus on the solo instrument at the expense of orchestral detail, occasional distortion and a touch of overload in the finale

Shostakovich 2

From 1968, a live performance once released on Melodiya C10-17502 – not the same performance as the 1968 Svetlanov live recording that came out on Intaglio CD. Nor the same year’s Moscow/Kondrashin live performance that was also issued on Melodiya and licensed to Eurodisc, HMV, Melodiya-Angel in America et al. This Rozhdestvensky-led performance came from the same concert that gave us the Tchaikovsky, also in this set, which was a 60th birthday concert. The performance is in good sound for its late sixties vintage and is searingly powerful; the violin/trombone exchanges are remarkable.

Lalo

From 1947. Again a much re-released disc, first on D015565/72. "Usual Suspects" label re-issues such as Delta, Design, Hall of Fame, as well as Supraphon and Vox. Poor recording, blowsy and scuffy and lacking definition. Oistrakh characterful and emotive, Kondrashin powerful and outsize. Oistrakh is right under the mike allowing extreme pianissimos in the first movement; the Intermezzo is thankfully intact and is full of lissom expression and deft colour. The Andante sounds rather like Tchaikovsky here; superlative bowing in the finale.

Bruch Scottish Fantasy

The only previously known Oistrakh recording of this work, to me, was the LSO/Horenstein 1962 on Decca. This is from two years earlier once more with Rozhdestvensky. Pliancy and delicacy inform the solo playing – no Heifetz finger position changes to heighten tension. Inward, introspective but well projected. The orchestra sounds rather spread in the perspective. Some untidiness in the second movement – brusque conducting as well and not a patch on Masur’s for Accardo, with balance crudities that may be the recording’s fault as much as the conductor’s. Occasionally Oistrakh’s intonation wanders, a few coughs; a touch crude taken as a whole, well though Oistrakh plays.

Beethoven

Terra very cognita of course but not this performance of the concerto dating from 1962. The Cluytens is the reference recording, the 1950 Gauk is in limbo, the live Abendroth seems to have gone, the commercial Melodiya Abendroth likewise. There was a Gui from 1960 on Fonit-Cetra. Here in Moscow the orchestra is adequate but no more. Rozhdestvensky over-emphatic, the sound unflatteringly shrill on occasion. Some quick solo portamenti in the slow movement with increasing vibrato intensity after 4.30. Very short linking passage to the finale. Conductor once again blustery and unhelpful.

Kabalevsky

This predates the commercial recording conducted by the composer (USSR State, 1955 – D17231/6, D489 etc). Marked by superb pizzicati, luscious contours, sleazy trumpets, a delightfully pirouetting Andantino and in the finale some of the fastest bowing in the East (outside Kogan). If it has to be done, let this be the way.

Taneyev

You’ll probably have the Malko, if you have it at all. There’s a Kondrashin – USSR State – on Bruno, which is undated. This Brilliant is from 1960 with Sanderling, same orchestra; I’ve not heard the Bruno and am assuming they’ve not been misidentified. Rather treble dampened this, dry and airless. Oistrakh reaches a peak of impassioned power at the end of the Prelude as we move from baroque gestures to more impressionist colours. Elegance personified in the Variations, beefy when necessary (beef was an Oistrakh speciality) superb in the Fairy Tale. For reasons of recording quality not to be preferred to the Philharmonia/Malko (Malko an old colleague, for whom Oistrakh had led an orchestra in Miaskovsky’s symphonic works in the 1920s).

Prokofiev 1

I always associate him more with No.2 but this is quite wrong discographically. Multiple examples of No 1 on record – Kondrashin on 78s, Golovanov likewise (where’s that been hiding?), Strasbourg/Bour, the famous von Matacic 1965 HMV, Termirkanov 1970, a Sanderling from the following year, rumours (unfounded so far) of a Prokofiev conducted traversal – that was the claim on Period SPL 739 anyway. Here with Kondrashin in ’63 he’s commanding; fine orchestral control by Kondrashin; undaunted technique from the soloist, ringing pizzicati, lyricism and drama balanced, one wolf note intrudes, wonderful legato in the finale, balletic warmth, superb trills, Kondrashin’s marshalling of lower brass top notch.

Tchaikovsky

There was Gauk, Kondrashin (twice) and Samosud – never come across that last one, with the Bolshoi on Vox, Murray Hill and Joker. Kempe ’59 preceded the famous Ormandy of 1960, though you will have come across the Konwitschny/Saxon in a cheapo box – maybe the Heliodor. This is the 27th September 1968 Rozhdestvensky conducted traversal. It was recorded live and there are a few "noises off." Oistrakh takes a good tempo for the first movement, not especially quick it must be said, quite patrician; good pirouetting lines and a well despatched cadenza, one note apart, with stout trumpets accompanying. Sensitively phrased slow movement, very lyric phraseology. Rather feminine sounding moments in the finale, quite exciting albeit with blustery conducting. Comparison with the Melodiya transfer in their big Oistrakh CD box favours the Russian disc – clearer at a higher level; simple test, you can hear the orchestral chairs scraping far more in the Melodiya than in the Brilliant transfer.

Sibelius

Another speciality concerto. A Gauk led performance is out of circulation, the Ehrling is the famous recording, though the Ormandy was certainly respectable, a Finnish Radio go-through with Fougstedt is on Ondine CD, and frequent collaborator Rozhdestvensky chips in with a widely publicised 1965 commercial disc on Melodiya C01077/8, leased to Ariola-Eurodisc, Mobile Fidelity, Musical Heritage, Vox and others besides. This Brilliant dates from 1966 and is full of weighty articulation. Not Oistrakh’s very best playing but still commanding, with the conductor for once earning his keep – intense head of steam from Rozhdestvensky. Big hearted slow movement, obtrusive whistled note, passionate commitment. Being live there are some coughs and a few executant slips in the finale. On balance the contours of this performance are almost identical with his Finnish broadcast of over a decade earlier, though the 1965 broadcast sported a much slower second movement.

Bartók 1

The Bartók concertos make infrequent appearances in the official discography. There’s a ’62 No.1, again with Rozhdestvensky, released on C0661 and licensed to Urania, Period, Le Chant du Monde and others and picked up by Forlane but otherwise little (it’s a different matter with the First Sonata) – no No.2. This is a strong, sinewy and powerfully contoured reading, with compelling brass interjections and a steady stream of lyric infusion from the soloist – real shades of colour and nobility.

Szymanowski 1

A Warsaw performance of No.1 has surfaced with Stryja but otherwise the Leningrad/Sanderling of 1959 has been the staple – D05180/1 with releases in the West on labels such as Forlane and Urania. Brilliant states their performance is a State Symphony/Sanderling of 20th September 1960. The recording is a bit blatant; orchestra sounds distant, some luscious Oistrakh moments but not enough orchestral detail and whilst he plays with exquisite panache at the top end of his register the whole performance can sound a shade unconvincing architecturally.

Hindemith

The LSO/Hindemith disc of September 1962 was made three months before this live taping with Rozhdestvensky. Though there seems to be a conflict of dates – an alternative source lists August 1962 – this seems to be the same live performance that Melodiya released on C0662 and that was picked up subsequently by Le Chant du Monde, Eurodisc and the same usual labels – but also by Victor (JVC). Considerable delicacy here and intimate playing between the more stentorian passagework. Firm chording, committed orchestral playing, cracking intonation pretty much all the way through, very bold brassy accompaniment.

Glazunov

This is the commercial 1947 Kondrashin – I don’t know of any other survival. This had a wide distribution after the initial Melodiya D03040/7. Also reissued on Praga CD but Brilliant sounds better – more immediate and clearer; note a slight pitch discrepancy between the two as well. The reading is warm and affectionate, not searingly brilliant – very expressive Andante, delicacy in the winds, first class cadenza, tremolandi splendid, pervasive feeling of quiet melancholy. Slightly congested recording but not damaging.

Chausson and Ravel

Very forward sound in the Chausson, his commercial undertaking in 1948 with Kondrashin, which has a full plethora of evocative sounds. The Ravel is commendably brisk in the old manner, back in the days when musicians knew how to play Ravel’s chamber works. No phrase breaks; craft and commitment and his only recording of it, much reissued (sample Monitor and Westminster for starters).

Stravinsky

We know the Lamoureux/Haitink Philips of 1963 but there’s also a later Berlin Symphony/Sanderling Melodiya M10-46420. The Brilliant team have uncovered a Kondrashin-Moscow reading that was taped in the same year as the Haitink, the decade in which Oistrakh turned to this work. He catches the gutty wit of it, with good, if rather recessed orchestral detail, and big tone in the first aria – demonstrating his adaptability; good shadowing wind figures marshalled by Kondrashin, with a strong and weighty Capriccio finale.

Miaskovsky

From 1939 and a claimed date of 1st January. This must be a misprint for 10th, the date of the premiere, which makes this something of a startling coup. Oistrakh was the dedicatee and had a hand in the writing of elements of the concerto. The recording is not good; violin very forwardly placed with a mushy and sometimes distorted orchestral backdrop. Side breaks as well – at 6.11 with half a second gap. Oistrakh highlights some phrases more freely and expressively than he did in his later commercial recording. The concert performance is predictably tighter than the disc –soloist reaches zenith of lyricism in first movement, though gorgeously sweet toned in Adagio. Interesting to hear the identical tempo in the finale up to about 2.50 where we find the trill episode goads Oistrakh to a much faster live tempo. It will be a trial for the generalist to listen to this – to the admirer it is a wonderful artefact, notwithstanding the problems.

Conclusions

All these performances are from Russian sources, either commercial or off-air. They’re all, in a sense, supplementary to primary recommendations – the Lalo for instance is superb but it was supplanted by the 1954 Martinon, the Shostakovich 1 by the Mitropoulos and so on. But the value of the box lies in its breadth and bulk, in its capturing, unearthing or re-issuing of some of the most consistently memorable violin playing of the twentieth century in repertoire entirely congenial to Oistrakh. There’s one outstanding rarity – the apparent first performance of the Miaskovsky. What we need now is for someone to dig up examples of his Moscow cycles of the History of the Violin concerts – which included both the Elgar and Walton concertos amongst much else. Whatever the sonic limitations of this box may sometimes be, the chance to own, to compare and to contrast multiple recordings by this artist is an unmissable one, and rendered even more so by the budget price range. What are you waiting for?

Jonathan Woolf

 



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