Great Recording though this may be the sleeve picture shows
the original LP with its coupling of the Devil’s Trill and
Mozart’s K454 sonata. Both sonatas and the vignette pieces
were recorded over the course of four days during February
1956. Oistrakh aficionados will also be well aware that Testament
has licensed a lot of this material from EMI. You’ll find
the Tartini on SBT1114 where it’s coupled with the Schubert
Octet and the de Falla, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Zarzycki
on SBT1116 conjoined with Prokofiev’s First Concerto. I can’t
help feeling that Testament’s couplings are rather incongruous
to say the least and don’t make for especially straightforward
This one however has a very well established look to it.
I’ve been listening to a contemporaneous recording of the
Tartini by the much younger Russian player Yulian Sitkovetsky.
His was a comet-sized talent, digitally remarkable, brutally
stilled in his early thirties. But listen first to the younger
man and then to Oistrakh and we hear two entirely differing
approaches, the Romanticist Sitkovetsky meeting the more
Classicist instincts of Oistrakh. Recorded warmly if a trifle
distantly Oistrakh is dextrous, brilliantly precise in his
trills, superbly equalized across all four strings, and builds
the tension in the cadenza with magnetic drama. Sitkovetsky
fails because his cadenza is overly metrical and his power
play lacks the requisite light and shade.
The rest of the programme
is devoted to the kind of favourites that flecked his concerts
with such consistent beauty. The Debussy is a lovely performance,
graced by an exquisite slide. His de Falla is less voluble
and volatile than, say, Stern or Heifetz from amongst his
contemporaries. The subtlety of his vibrato usage and the
metrical sophistication he employs bring their own very true
rewards. As indeed does the certain tristesse he finds in
the final bars – unusually so. Ysaÿe’s music – bar the solo
sonatas – was pretty much the province of Russian players
from the 1930s to the 1960s. At a time when western players
shunned the more overt moments enshrined in them fiddlers
such as Oistrakh continued to carry the flame. His Extase
burns powerfully – highly expressive pointing brings this
piece simmeringly to life. Vibrancy and colour inform the
Tchaikovsky, a piece tailor made to display his rhythmic
incision. And he plays the Suk, in the Jaroslav Kocian arrangement,
with a huskily romantic tone and constantly changing vibrato.
The Kodály pieces are in
the arrangement by Oistrakh’s violinistic colleague Grigory
Feighin - and the second in particular is an especially entertaining
pizzicato-laced affair. Wieniawski holds no terrors for him
and the panache of the playing is matched by Vladimir Yampolsky’s
own pianism. The little-performed Zarzycki was once quite
a popular number – Huberman once recorded it - but Oistrakh’s
is a much smoother and more elegant affair.
So, yes, a wonderful collection.
But then most Oistrakh collections are. Whether one should
allow it as a GROC is another matter – I’d rate it as a cherishable
recital but Great surely means something else. If this is
a “Great” recording what is Oistrakh’s Shostakovich 1? There’s
really no need to entice the punters with spurious puff.
This recital can survive very well without it
Great Recordings of the Century