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The Famous Oistrakh Trio

Trio C major (1897 completed Maximilian Steinberg 1939)

Trio in G minor Op.15
David Oistrakh (violin)
Sviatoslav Knushevitzky (cello)
Lev Oborin (piano)
No recording details
PREISER RECORDS 90595 [66.44]


This is the second in Preiser’s new series devoted to David Oistrakh’s Trio that I’ve reviewed. Founded in the darkest days of the War, in 1941, it lasted until cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitzky’s early death in 1963, followed soon after by Lev Oborin’s. All three were born within a year of each other and Oistrakh, ironically, given that he died at only sixty-six, outlasted them all. Their natural successors were the Kogan-Rostropovich-Gilels trio whose discs have rather put into the shade the older trio’s late 1940s series, disinterred here.

They espoused some novel things on disc and Rimsky’s incomplete Trio was certainly a first. It was Maximilian Steinberg, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, who completed this problematic piece begun in 1897 but put aside and left incomplete on the composer’s death. Clearly it was the stimulus of Steinberg’s work, not undertaken until 1939, over forty years after it was ditched, that encouraged the studios to get the premier trio in Russia to record it. It’s certainly fascinating hearing the Oistrakh Trio getting to grips with a rather sprawling superstructure and trying to minimise deficiencies. They’re quite closely miked, if a shade dryly – which allows admirers to listen closely – which was not always the case in the boxy Moscow recording studios (they could rival Parisian ones in the 1920s for lack of resonance). They bring a sense of bigness to the playing that manages to conceal many of the compositional cracks, even in the repetitive passages, and Oborin proves masterful in his part, here and elsewhere. The Scherzo is witty with a trio of glancing depth (led by the pianist) and the Adagio features fine, lean playing from Knushevitzky and Oistrakh coiling and trilling over the top of him. The finale is probably the most diverting movement, opening with recitativo solos and fierce fugal passages, before the piano drifts in with an unexpected moment seemingly imported from a Beethoven piano sonata (a reverie, really) then to finish some fresh aired dancery. An odd, obviously problematic work but one played with sympathy and colour by three great musicians.

No such worries about the Smetana, which I played again and again. Oistrakh was a notable exponent of Dvořák and here he proves just as versatile in the Czech trio literature (later on in this Preiser series we find him in Dvořák trios). The trio brings great reserves of nobility and depth to this tragic work, the string players widening their vibrato further still in the second movement, bring to bear real contrasts between the opening of the maestoso passages and the dynamically reduced rather feminine answering phrases. They construct a real drama of the soul and their finale is in turn exciting, touching, grand, affecting and rapt.

Full marks to Preiser for returning these discs to the catalogue – I’m not aware that these performances have been released on CD before though Preiser doesn’t boast of it. They probably saw service in the 1950s on such labels as Monitor and Westminster but they are doubly welcome on silver disc.

Jonathan Woolf


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