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David Oistrakh Collection: Volume 1
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

String Quartet in D, Op. 11a (1871) [31'02].
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67b (1943/4) [23'09].
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810, 'Death and the Maiden' (1824) – Andante con motoc [12'21].
David Oistrakh, acPyotr Bondarenko (violins); acMikhail Terian (viola); acSviatoslav Knushevitsky, bMiloš Sádlo (cellos); bDmitri Shostakovich (piano).
From Melodiya a295/8, c00205/6, bMercury DM21. Rec. 1946. ADD

A fabulous disc, musically. To have David Oistrakh and Knushevitsky together is special enough – to have the composer Shostakovich as pianist in his own music almost seems like spoiling us.

Production values are a little pared down, however. We are given a different running order on the back cover than in the 'booklet'. The notes focus almost exclusively on the performers. A shame, given the musical rewards.

The recording of the Tchaikovsky sounds its age but nevertheless succeeds in capturing the quartet's wonderfully balanced sound. There is excitement aplenty here, but perhaps most importantly the players manage to blend extreme sensitivity, near-abandon and real passion in one supremely constructed movement. The famous Andante cantabile represents exploration of inner territory, hushed and concentrated. If the players do not completely let themselves go in the third movement, just missing the rusticity, it is as if they are saving themselves for the finale. The playing is at its warmest, most dedicated and most authentically Russian here.

Miracles take place in the Shostakovich, though. Right from cellist Miloš Sádlo's astonishingly controlled high (very high!) harmonics at the opening, which emerge as some sort of restrained banshee's cry, it is clear this is to be something special. The first movement is achingly beautiful, every aspect delivered with tremendous assurance from all parties. Shostakovich's pianism is just right here, his tone limpid, and he favours the dry, low-pedal approach.

If the second movement 'Allegro non troppo' stretches the composer/pianist rather - it is not 100% technically polished - this is a real romp. Contrast this with the recent Beaux Arts version, which despite its squeaky-cleanness misses the visceral excitement here (Warner Classics 2564 62514-2, to be reviewed shortly). A properly desolate Largo begins with the famous deep-toned piano chords sonorous but affected by wow somewhat. No matter – the string players sing as if possessed by the most grievous sadness. In these hands this movement is transfigured to the highest lament. In the finale’s typical shadowy dance control is all – talking of which, try 1'06 for the most magical subito pp. This then moves through real fantasy to a fragmentary end that, in this case, seems the only way the piece could ever have concluded. Superb, and interpretatively beyond criticism.

Finally, we come to the Andante con moto of Schubert's D810. I am trying desperately not to describe the opening as ghostly for obvious reasons, so perhaps veiled will have to do. There is no doubt that the players are fully immersed in this dark world, delighting in Schubert's immensely fertile imagination. There is some distortion here, but musically this is gripping. A thought-provoking close to a disc of many wonders.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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