The only word which described this performance of the Brahms
Violin Concerto is electrifying. I’m going to stick my
neck out and state that Oistrakh was one of the greatest, if
not the greatest, violinists of the last century. His legato
is a real joy. He could float a tune like no other, with the
most beautiful and unforced tone (just listen to him at 12:43
or 14:20 in the first movement). He can attack without sounding
ugly – 13:41 in the same movement – and his passagework is quite
breathtaking – 01:13 in the finale of the Dvorák. He moves in
and out of the orchestral texture with ease, and his octaves
are stunning. I think that you get the picture.
The only problem with this disc of the Brahms Concerto is the recording, which is so forward that it’s like having the performers sitting right in front of you, and the sound is hard and rough in places. Turning the volume down doesn’t help either, for the hard edge is still there. Whether this is a fault of the original recording or this transfer I do not know. There is also the strange moment, at the start of the coda to the first movement where something happens to the sound and for a few seconds the orchestra sounds like the Mighty Wurlitzer! Very odd indeed. The slow movement starts somewhere in the distance and gradually moves towards you, the oboe having a slightly sour tone. Oistrakh is as aristocratic as you’d expect and is wonderful when he takes over the melodic material and it was now that I realised that it’s the horns which make the Mighty Wurlitzer sound, because you can hear them in the background. The recording of the second and third movements is much better, calmer and cleaner than that of the first. Despite my misgivings concerning the sound this is truly great fiddling and should not be missed. However, for Oistrakh at his very, very, best, in this work, seek out his 1954 recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Franz Konwitschny, for this is the violinist at his most visionary and sublime (Hänssler Profil 7005, coupled with Konwitschny’s 1953 account of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony).
Musically, Dvorák’s Violin Concerto isn’t in the same class as Brahms’s, but there’s still much to enjoy, especially in a performance as strong as this one. So forget that the form is weak, and the tunes aren’t of the best, and simply enjoy the playing.
Apart from the fierceness of the recording of the first movement of the Brahms, the sound is very good, clean mono. Oistrakh is placed slightly forward but he doesn’t obscure the orchestral detail. Both recordings are available as part of a 5 disk set, containing both Concerto and chamber music performances of the violinist (Melodiya 1000745).