SHOSTAKOVICH Dmitry (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto no. 1 ; Violin Concerto no.
Amitie op 29 for two violins and orchestra
David Oistrakh (violin) with
Igor Oistrakh in the Ysaye.
Orchestras in order Philharmonia: Rozhdestvensky
USSR State SymphonyOrchestra/ Svetlanov
BBC Records. BBCL 4060-2
£11.99 Amazon UK
£10.99 AmazonUS $16.49
This is another winner from the BBC.
The First Concerto, Op 77, was recorded in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 7
September 1962 and is a truly amazing performance both from soloist and
orchestra. And the sound is very good. The opening Nocturne meanders a little
too much but the playing is so exquisitely beautiful that one does not care.
There are less of both the familiar Shostakovich trade marks and musical
signatures in this movement which also has a passion that one does not always
associate with this genius. I shall never forget Sir William Walton telling
us that the greatest composer of the 20th century was
Just listen and marvel at Oistrakh's control and depth of feeling for this
magnificent opening movement. It may occasionally sound like a tearjerker
such as when vain Bette Davis finds out that the splendid Claude Rains
(alias Mr Skeffington)
is blind and yet can still say of his ex-wife, 'A woman is only
beautiful when she is loved'. This is very special music.
The second movement is a scherzo, often delicate and very clever. Here
Shostakovich's humour is not the sardonic aggressive type one may associate
with him but cheerful playfulness. Again it is very well performed. The central
section is choice. To take just one simple point, the timpanist selects a
variety of drumsticks and with great effect. His dry attack adds to the music's
character. A little point but a very effective one. The piccolos are not
as shrill as they can often be in Shostakovich. The conclusion to this movement
is like the Witches Sabbath. Phew!
The third movement, Passacaglia, is truly superb as music and so is this
performance. The timpanist and his choice of sticks is again very wise and
stunning. The music's argument is so logical and coherent in this account
and Oistrakh's tone is impeccable. At times the playing is so moving that
it is almost unbearable yet it is not slushy or sentimental. Note the sheer
beauty of the high bassoon writing. Do you associate beauty with a bassoon?
The counterpoint of the horn is another revelation. Whatever Shostakovich
was he was versatile and extremely accomplished in all matters of form and
composition. As a piece of music on its own this movement is a marvellous
achievement. But why have I not noticed it before?
It has never been played. like this in my hearing.
A typical Shostakovich cadenza follows which begins thoughtfully. Oistrakh
plays it as music not as a showing off or a circus act.
The finale is a Burlesca and very exciting. Oistrakh avoids the pitfall of
making it sound light and banal and therefore of no consequence. The variety
is extensive. The joy in the music is not quite breathtaking but it is
reminiscent of the finale of the Sixth Symphony. You do have the Fritz Reiner
version with the Pittsburgh don't you? If not, why not? This Concerto finale
is held in check. You know a terrific climax is coming and it may seem a
little while but when it does come it is truly shattering. Irrefutably
I had to play it again straight away.
The Second Concerto, Op 129, is different in that it has many of Shostakovich's
clichés and yet it is probably the finer work. It is more mellow but
not more beautiful. Again we have a large, slowish opening movement, a device
that Shostakovich liked e.g. the Sixth, Eighth and Tenth symphonies. The
solo part is more involved and its integration with the orchestra is very
satisfying. Elements of the superb First Cello Concerto prevail occasionally
as in the solo horn writing. It is often perky. This performance also benefits
from a better conductor in the admirable Evgeny Svetlanov and the performance
was given in RFH on 22 August 1968. Again the timpanist chooses his
drumsticks wisely and yet this is a different orchestra and timpanist. The
music heads towards a climax with episodic interruptions. One waits with
great expectations and is not disappointed. My, those braying horns and the
timpanist's attack and Oistrakh's playing is simply superb. The cadenza passage
is very well judged. The solo horn passage which follows it is beautifully
played and it is not easy! Oistrakh's tone is always impeccable. That could
not be said, for example, of Menuhin who was not a good player any way. Oistrakh
was the perfect violinist, brilliant, accurate but never showy.
The adagio follows and here the tone is velvet. I love those long melodic
lines that Shostakovich makes. The counterpoint with the flute is very intimate.
Later, the clarinet becomes the violinist's "new mistress" and she gives
way to the horn. Every nuance is in Oistrakh's playing. I had forgotten what
a superlative artist he was. Listen to the tessituras and all you can do
and these are live performances as well. That makes it all
the more incredible. The quasi-cadenza passage here is well judged and that
rare passion is glimpsed momentarily. The horn and rich string passage at
the end of the movement is choice
What would have been the result had Shostakovich written a Horn Concerto?
There is a brief, slow introduction to the allegro finale with a sardonic
horn. The music bustles along. The horn is kept busy and the variety of violin
playing from Oistrakh is truly a delight. The timpani attacks are staggering
and it is a good job that they are rare!
The exciting music is almost too hot to handle. This is great stuff, really.
Even the final cadenza sizzles with musical heat. The final minutes are
breathtaking! Music of confidence and triumph.
If you don't respond to this, you need professional help!
The Ysaye is an anticlimax, interesting though it is and often quite lovely.
And what good orchestration. But it is the two Shostakovich masterpieces
that are the stars.
There are some small coughs and splutters from the audience but this disc
is a great success.
You will not hear these concertos played better!