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David Oistrakh – 100th Anniversary Edition
CD 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for two Violins in D Minor BWV 1043 [17:14]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678–1741)
L’Estro Armonico Op. 3 – No.8 (1711) [13:04]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 Turkish (1775) [30:04]
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Violin Sonata in D major [12:58]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Three Hungarian folk dances [4:32]
CD 2
Ernst Hermann MEYER (1905-1988)
Violin Concerto (1963-64) [36:19]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Igor Oistrakh (violin) (Bach, Vivaldi)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Franz Konwitschny (Bach, Vivaldi)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Franz Konwitschny (Mozart)
Staatskapelle Berlin/Otmar Suitner (Meyer)
Naum Walter (piano) (Leclair, Kodaly)
rec. 1954-65 (Kodály, Leclair) 1954-55 (Mozart), 1957 (Bach, Vivaldi) and 1965 (Meyer)
BERLIN CLASSICS 0184612BC [77:52 + 36:19]
Experience Classicsonline

There are some familiar recordings in this two-disc collection and one very much less well known item. That is devoted to Ernst Hermann Meyer’s Concerto, which occupies the second disc, which as a consequence only lasts thirty-six minutes. Of that rarity in Oistrakh’s discography more later.
The centenary of Oistrakh’s birth has produced a welcome number of reissues, ranging from EMI’s huge box set of Oistrakh’s recordings for the company (to be reviewed by me soon) to more modest single disc. This sits at the more modest end of the spectrum in terms of bulk – but not necessarily in terms of quality. Oistrakh and Konwitschny (‘Con-Whisky’ to British orchestral players) forged a sympathetic relationship and made a number of mid-fifties recordings together in Leipzig and Dresden.
For the first two concertos David is joined by his son Igor. I tend to favour the more seraphic, the more rapt partnership between Oistrakh and Menuhin in the Bach Double but there is certainly no doubting the immaculate and expected rapport between father and son nor the ensemble between them. The separation of the two voices is well judged; in fact despite the muddiness of the lower strings the actual solo violin distribution in the sound stage is fine. The Vivaldi concerto derives from L’Estro Armonico and finds the two Oistrakhs in sturdy and masculine form. The highlight of the performance is the sense of noble desolation they manage to convey in the slow movement.
For the Mozart we move from Leipzig to Dresden. His later performances – principally the self-directed Berlin Philharmonic cycle – are much better known than this one and more often reissued. But there is something about this mid 50s performance that is compelling. For one thing he has a conductor and rigidity is avoided and for another his tone retains its youthful verve avoiding the slightly bloated feeling that crept into his performances in his last years. The warmth and fluidity of phrasing in the slow movement is a marvel and the Janissary episodes of the finale are so well unleashed that the whole movement stands as a unity as it so often doesn’t in less acutely perceptive readings.
Leclair and Kodály offer evidence of Oistrakh’s association with pianist Naum Walter. The former is every romantic violinist’s favourite Leclair sonata, the one from which so many extracted the Sarabande and Tambourin. Needless to say Oistrakh is a warm-hearted player in this kind of repertoire and he has a very unbashful colleague to hand. The Kodaly dances are exciting and dashing.
Ernst Hermann Meyer is best known to Anglophones for his pioneering book English Chamber Music. He was born in Berlin in 1905, trained originally as a bank clerk and then switched to musicology and composition (with Hindemith). He also knew Hanns Eisler. He emigrated to England in 1933 – he was a Jew and a Communist – and lived there until 1948 whereupon he returned to the paradise of East Germany. There he quickly took a prestige position as Professor of the Sociology of Music at Berlin Humboldt University and fitted into the hierarchy of the GDR apparatus. He rose to high office in the musical and political world. His Concerto has a strong profile; the opening shares something of Prokofiev’s mordant lyricism; there are portentous brassy passages and plenty of strenuous surge. Oistrakh himself apparently called it ‘a symphony with violin obbligato’ which gives one an appreciation of the nature of the scoring. But Meyer can organise things adeptly; the way the opening movement slows down with ruminative wind writing and the fireside curlicues of violin smoke is truly evocative. The heart of the concerto is the central movement. The booklet notes are equivocal about the ‘official’ elements implicit in it – that’s to say the political moments - and about its ‘affirmative’ tone drowning out Meyer’s own, truer lyric voice. Well, maybe. But there are still some highly charged ‘mysterioso’ passages – spectral and finely contrasted with the bombast elsewhere. I’d call it Socialist Realist Sturm und Drang. The finale defiantly picks up where the second movement ended – a welcome touch of bloody mindedness. There are more hints of Prokofiev and some isolated bars wouldn’t be out of place in the Bloch or the Barber either. The work ends equivocally, unresolved. It’s difficult to gauge the work but the fact that I’ve given it so much space indicates that – whilst no masterpiece – it has a brooding power. Brilliantly played.
The documentation is good, the package attractive. I suspect that this release offers some gap-filling opportunities even for strong Oistrakh admirers.
Jonathan Woolf


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