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Oistrakh and Rostropovich
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.77 (1878) [37:42]
Double Concerto for violin, violoncello and orchestra in A minor Op.102 (1887) [31:53]
USSR National Anthem [1:11]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, September 1963 (Violin Concerto, Anthem); Royal Albert Hall, October 1965 (Double Concerto)
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4197-2 [72:05]
 


I wondered rhetorically not so long ago how many recordings of Leonid Kogan’s Beethoven concerto one needed. If I implied not as many as are - or have been - available I’m going to contradict myself in the case of Kogan’s older colleague, David Oistrakh. There can never be too many Brahms Concerto recordings with Oistrakh, especially when marshalled by that accompanist supreme Kirill Kondrashin.
 
This one was given at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1963 with the visiting. Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, who preface proceedings with a very stirring rendition of the Russian National Anthem. Collectors will know that the two men had collaborated on a commercial recording of the concerto. They will also know that  many other Oistrakh performances exist and will doubtless continue to be disinterred from archives and private collections. Amongst the most prominent obviously, are the Klemperer, Szell and Konwitschny but there are also readings with Bruck, Pedrotti and Claudio Abbado.
 
This is a powerfully resilient reading, one that holds up well even in the glacial spotlight of the RFH. Kondrashin is an expert marshal of texture and a master of flexible rubato, moulding orchestral paragraphs with wave–like control. Oistrakh’s big tone, so multi-variegated and capable of so many gradations of colour, had not yet become the more orotund creature of the early 1970s. He plays with masculine eloquence and his accustomed introspection. True there are a few technical frailties early on but they are negligible when set against so valuable a feature of his Brahms playing – its inwardness and restraint perfectly judged alongside its assertive power and emotive control. Oistrakh was always one of the most balanced Brahmsians of his generation, and that’s richly reinforced here.
 
In the Double Concerto he’s joined by Rostropovich and the same orchestra and conductor in a Royal Albert Hall performance from 1965. Here the notoriously echo-y properties of the barn are audible, though the playing soon sweeps one up and away. Oistrakh is best known here from his recording with Fournier, Galliera and the Philharmonia in 1959, less so perhaps a reading with Rostropovich, Szell and the Cleveland. But again collectors will relish the recording he made with his regular Russian partner Knushevitzky and the USSR Symphony with Eliasberg. Though I wager still more will know the Prague 78 set with Miloš Sádlo, the Czech Philharmonic and Ančerl. There’s a recording banging around with Ulofsson and the Swedish Radio Orchestra under Stig Westerberg though I’ve never heard it (can anyone oblige?).  
 
I enjoyed the Albert Hall performance though it doesn’t really displace the slightly more temperate Galliera/Fournier in my affections. Kondrashin risks some powerful metrical tugging and for some reason – not yet played in, hall temperature, strings or whatever – Oistrakh’s intonation is not always spot-on; very unusual for him. Still, they sweep through the first movement with a powerful and vigorous Ančerl-like tempo and drive. They don’t match the Czech performance - nor come to that did the native Russian one with Knushevitzky – for breathless animation in the central movement. Kondrashin is thoroughly at one with his soloists for the finale, a splendid exhibition of grace and power held in perfect equilibrium.
 
A small warning about audience participation. The Double Concerto performance witnessed a rather bronchial October audience especially – you might have guessed – in the slow movement. Otherwise these are excellent adjuncts to better known recordings. I’ve not mentioned Rostropovich’s Double Concerto history but you may have the Perlman/Haitink on your shelves. This BBC one is especially valuable for Kondrashin and the fact that Oistrakh was always a more probing Brahmsian than Perlman. Small limitations of sound and passing technical fallibilities are no bar to a richly enjoyable brace of performances.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

 



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