Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (1878) [36:46]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) [33:46]
Leonid Kogan (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Kyril Kondrashin (Brahms)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux (Khachaturian)
rec. February 1959, Abbey Road studios, London (Brahms); January 1958, Symphony Hall, Boston (Khachaturian)
GUILD GHCD2394 [71:12]
The Soviet Union was the fortunate possessor of two violinists who could take on the varying demands of the Brahms and Khachaturian concertos and bring to both works strikingly divergent qualities and expressive depths. David Oistrakh, by some way the older, brought warm-hearted, tonally rich, and masculine breadth. Leonid Kogan, the young pretender, was the more tensile performer, whose ethos was based on that of Heifetz. Through the studio and live concert performances that survive, one can trace their fascinating trajectory in these very different and artistically very differing concertos.
Kogan recorded the Khachaturian in Boston with Pierre Monteux in January 1958. Monteux is, I think we can all agree, not the first chap to come to mind for this role. Indeed he didn’t even know the work before the assignment, though this is not something that has debarred other conductors, or even soloists or quartets (say) from setting down outstanding performances. Unfamiliarity brings insights in Monteux’s case. He brings out colours that are occluded in other more deferential recordings; and importantly, one doesn’t feel him holding back rhythmically because of his lack of familiarity with the work or the idiom. There’s no sign of caution. In fact if you check the surviving performances Kogan gave with Kondrashin in Moscow in 1964 (on Brilliant) and with the composer himself in Prague (in 1959, just out in a fascinating double disc set on Supraphon), you’ll find that Monteux is right up the mark. Especially notable is the swaggering Boston brass, on especially distinguished form, and the sense of swing that Monteux generates in the glamorous finale. Kogan, it seems superfluous to add, plays resplendently throughout.
The Brahms was recorded with Kondrashin and the Philharmonia in London in February 1959. This is a well-known recording. EMI’s transfer on their Kogan Profile twofer  retained quite a large amount of high level hiss. Guild has tamed that at the slight expense of room ambience - the ‘room’ being the Abbey Road studios. Kogan gives his famously brisk and nonchalant reading, though so assured and sophisticated is his rhythmic sense that it never sounds especially rushed. The transitions are gauged with huge assurance and musicality, whilst Kogan’s tone is concentrated and subtle but seldom, if ever, as personalised as his hero Heifetz. The Philharmonia offers hugely distinguished support under the direction of one of the best accompanists in the business.
This excellent coupling has been well annotated.
Kogan, the young pretender: tensile, concentrated and subtle.
Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto