wondered rhetorically not so long ago how many recordings
of Leonid Kogan’s Beethoven concerto one needed. If I implied
not as many as are - or have been - available I’m going to
contradict myself in the case of Kogan’s older colleague,
David Oistrakh. There can never be too many Brahms Concerto
recordings with Oistrakh, especially when marshalled by that
accompanist supreme Kirill Kondrashin.
one was given at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1963
with the visiting. Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, who preface
proceedings with a very stirring rendition of the Russian
National Anthem. Collectors will know that the two men had
collaborated on a commercial recording of the concerto. They
will also know that many other Oistrakh performances exist
and will doubtless continue to be disinterred from archives
and private collections. Amongst the most prominent obviously,
are the Klemperer, Szell and Konwitschny but there are also
readings with Bruck, Pedrotti and Claudio Abbado.
is a powerfully resilient reading, one that holds up well
even in the glacial spotlight of the RFH. Kondrashin is an
expert marshal of texture and a master of flexible rubato,
moulding orchestral paragraphs with wave–like control. Oistrakh’s
big tone, so multi-variegated and capable of so many gradations
of colour, had not yet become the more orotund creature of
the early 1970s. He plays with masculine eloquence and his
accustomed introspection. True there are a few technical
frailties early on but they are negligible when set against
so valuable a feature of his Brahms playing – its inwardness
and restraint perfectly judged alongside its assertive power
and emotive control. Oistrakh was always one of the most
balanced Brahmsians of his generation, and that’s richly
the Double Concerto he’s joined by Rostropovich and the same
orchestra and conductor in a Royal Albert Hall performance
from 1965. Here the notoriously echo-y properties of the
barn are audible, though the playing soon sweeps one up and
away. Oistrakh is best known here from his recording with
Fournier, Galliera and the Philharmonia in 1959, less so
perhaps a reading with Rostropovich, Szell and the Cleveland.
But again collectors will relish the recording he made with
his regular Russian partner Knushevitzky and the USSR Symphony
with Eliasberg. Though I wager still more will know the Prague
78 set with Miloš Sádlo, the Czech Philharmonic and Ančerl.
There’s a recording banging around with Ulofsson and the
Swedish Radio Orchestra under Stig Westerberg though I’ve
never heard it (can anyone oblige?).
enjoyed the Albert Hall performance though it doesn’t really
displace the slightly more temperate Galliera/Fournier in
my affections. Kondrashin risks some powerful metrical tugging
and for some reason – not yet played in, hall temperature,
strings or whatever – Oistrakh’s intonation is not always
spot-on; very unusual for him. Still, they sweep through
the first movement with a powerful and vigorous Ančerl-like
tempo and drive. They don’t match the Czech performance -
nor come to that did the native Russian one with Knushevitzky – for
breathless animation in the central movement. Kondrashin
is thoroughly at one with his soloists for the finale, a
splendid exhibition of grace and power held in perfect equilibrium.
small warning about audience participation. The Double Concerto
performance witnessed a rather bronchial October audience
especially – you might have guessed – in the slow movement.
Otherwise these are excellent adjuncts to better known recordings.
I’ve not mentioned Rostropovich’s Double Concerto history
but you may have the Perlman/Haitink on your shelves. This
BBC one is especially valuable for Kondrashin and the fact
that Oistrakh was always a more probing Brahmsian than Perlman.
Small limitations of sound and passing technical fallibilities
are no bar to a richly enjoyable brace of performances.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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