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Warsaw Philharmonic Archive
David Oistrakh
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)

Violin Concerto No. 1 Op. 35 (1916)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D major Op. 77 (1878)
David Oistrakh (violin)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Karol Stryja (Szymanowski) recorded live November 1961
Witold Rowicki (Brahms) recorded live October 1969
CD ACCORD ACD 118-2 [61.22]

 

This forms part of a series derived from performances given by the Warsaw Philharmonic and released from their archive under the aegis of CD Accord. Most of the batch I shall be reviewing date from the 1960s though there are earlier performances such as a 1954 Rowicki-led Coriolan. Focus here turns to David Oistrakh and two staples of his repertoire of which the Szymanowski No. 1 will probably prove the more intriguing repertoire to those who have yet to make the acquaintance of Oistrakh’s 1959 recording of the work with Kurt Sanderling and the Leningrad State Philharmonic.

In the Szymanowski, Oistrakh was partnered not by Rowicki – who went on to record both concertos with Wanda Wilkomirska – but by Karol Stryja. The conductor had studied with Fitelberg, a great champion of Polish music in general and Szymanowski and Karłowicz in particular. He was associated with the Silesian Philharmonic for a remarkable length of time – just under forty years – and toured with them, as well as taking appointments abroad (in Denmark for example with the Odense Orchestra). He died in Katowice in 1998. He proves an idiomatic foil for Oistrakh and secures good playing from the Warsaw forces. The violinist was one of the few international virtuosi seriously committed to the work at the time – others tended to give single performances and drop it from their repertoire – and he brings his big tone and colossal vibrancy to bear on it. Not only that of course. His exceptional ability to think in narrative terms works abundantly to the work’s advantage, and his passionate generosity grants sweeping advocacy for the concerto. Stryja marshals his winds to fine effect and though the recording somewhat constricts the full dynamic range of the performance it emerges as something of a major Oistrakh statement. Those for whom Oistrakh is, however, too eloquently and opulently expressive should listen to Eugenia Uminska’s 1948 recording with the Philharmonia conducted by Stryja’s teacher, the legendary Fitelberg. Her austerity, tonal and expressive, and Fitelberg’s amazingly animated sense of design and colour are must-haves in this repertoire.

His Brahms is a known quantity from the famous quartet of commercial recordings with Gauk, Abendroth, Ehrling and Cluytens. In October 1969 with Rowicki conducting Oistrakh takes a little time to warm up but once his intonation has centred he gives plenty of opportunities to admire his superbly colouristic vibrato, the quick – and very infrequent – portamenti and the constant inflexions of light and shade that illuminate his musical argument. Oistrakh really was a master of the long paragraph and one can hear it throughout this disc. Occasionally one feels Rowicki’s less than seamless handling of the orchestra in the first movement (some passages seem rather imposed). Oistrakh illustrates all his characteristic tonal nuance in the slow movement – where the imprecision of the wind chording is only a temporary distraction – and he is genial and warm-hearted in the finale where he intensifies his vibrato nicely. He’s certainly more avuncular here than the motoric Heifetz and Adolf Busch in their performances and he’s similarly less intense than many of his competitors in the opening movement – his Soviet rival Kogan being an obvious example.

As adjuncts to his central discography these performances are highly attractive for Oistrakh admirers. The notes are in Polish and English and relate to the Warsaw Philharmonic and the performers but not the particular circumstances of the performances. Incidentally I’m sure that the strange and very occasional squeaking noise in the Brahms is not a degraded tape so much as the noisy shoes of Rowicki – or was it Oistrakh?

Jonathan Woolf

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