Oleg Kagan is not to be confused with that other Russian
master violinist Leonid Kogan. Kagan who died in 1990 at the age of
only 44 has a considerable following among connoisseurs. Amongst his
most effective and eloquent advocates is Professor Maria E Michel-Beyerle.
Her company, Live Classics, has created a Kagan Edition which draws
on radio station and Melodiya sound materials. Full details are given
on the website detailed below.
The Kagan Sibelius has considerable documentary value
and must have been held in considerable affection by the Kagan family.
A native of the extreme East of the USSR (the city of Sakhalin) his
family moved to the other extreme, to Riga in Latvia in his early years
and his outstanding musical skills took him to Moscow to study with
Boris Kuznetsov and then with David Oistrakh. The Sibelius tape, sourced
from Finnish Radio, enshrines the very performance that won him
the 1965 Sibelius Competition. It reveals the nineteen year old Kagan
as a player with slender tone, petulant attack and phrasing alive to
variety and emphasis. I am not sure that this is a recording that would
rank among the top ten but it is a good performance. The odd roughnesses
(00.36 in track 3) contrast with the virtual silence of the Helsinki
audience - there are a few coughs. We must also wonder at the low level
of hiss - vestigial at worst. The original tape and transfer engineering
was accomplished with exemplary care. It is satisfying also to hear
Hannikainen conducting the Finnish Radio orchestra. His Sibelian credentials
had already been established by 1965 as his World Record Club recordings
of the Second and Fifth symphonies (try EMI-Serpahim 7243 5 69134 2)
testify. In the 1950s he recorded the Fourth Symphony and the Lemminkainen
Legends for Melodiya. For Everest he made an LP with the LSO that had
even wider currency: Tapiola with the Violin Concerto taken by the temperamental
Kagan twenty years later had developed a much more
refined and succulent tone. The Berg Concerto is given a wonderfully
poised and moving performance. All credit to Hans Vonk for his direction
of the Vienna Symphony. They handle the diaphanous orchestral textures
with masterly sensitivity. I do not recall having been quite so moved
by the calming susurration of those tolling opening bars. This strikes
me as a very special performance.
After hearing this I was tempted to hold onto the other
Kagan discs I had requested. In fact they went to Jonathan Woolf whose
knowledge of the violinist world makes him a much more fitting and authoritative
This disc is satisfying for the Sibelius and outstanding
for the Berg.