David Oistrakh plays Russian Violin Concertos
- The Russian Archives
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.99 [36:29]
Violin Concerto No.2 in C sharp minor, Op.129 [28:13]
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Violin Concerto in C, Op.48 [15:48]
Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Concert Suite Op.28 for violin and orchestra [40:50]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19 [20:03]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35 [33:27]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Yevgeni Mravinsky (Shostakovich
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Shostakovich
2, Tchaikovsky) Kyrill Kondrashin (Prokofiev)
State Symphony Orchestra of USSR/Carl Eliasberg (Kabalevsky) Kurt
rec. 18 November 1956 (Shostakovich Concerto no.1); 27 September,
1968 (Shostakovich Concerto no.2); 12 May 1949 (Kabalevsky); 20
September 1960 (Taneyev); 7 September 1963 (Prokofiev); 27 September
1968 (Tchaikovsky). Venues not listed.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9239 [3 CDs: 64:46 + 57:47 + 54:38]
Since the demise of the USSR there have been a number of series that implied they were presenting newly rediscovered treasures that had been secreted away in some vault or other. I remember one that was genuinely considered as such which emerged in the final years of the USSR. Marketing ploy or not the proof of the musical pudding is in the listening and this 3 CD set is a wonderful example of the art of one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century.
David Oistrakh was born in Odessa in 1908, and it was his stepfather’s name he took (his original was Kolker) and who was an amateur violinist himself. Oistrakh’s mother was a singer at the state Opera House and she often took the young David there as a treat. I like to imagine my father may have been there at the same time as he was born five years earlier and his aunt took him to the same opera house once before the family left for England - I’m an old romantic!
Whoever it was who cleaned up and digitally re-mastered these recordings deserves considerable credit as they sound incredibly fresh and I kept having to check that I’d read it correctly: that the first offering, Shostakovich’s first violin concerto was really recorded as long ago as 1956. Oistrakh premiered both his violin concertos and this recording was made only a year after its premiere. Oistrakh was, as Dr David Doughty writes in the notes, renowned for his sweetness of tone. This is in evidence in abundance in this first concerto especially in the passacaglia in the third movement as the music soars upwards in the register. As Doughty also notes the concerto contains some of the “finest music for violin of the 20th century”. It grows in my appreciation every time I hear it. When I reviewed Daniel Hope’s recording I said I felt it was a serious contender for benchmark status but ended the review by saying I could not be categorical about which version I most preferred or what should be considered the yardstick by which others should be judged. However, hearing this recording I am prepared to nail my opinions to the musical mast and say this should be considered the benchmark. If Shostakovich had been a violinist he couldn’t have played it better or with more understanding of its nature and content. It makes you want to play again and again. The Second Concerto is equally well played, as you’d expect by its dedicatee who received it as a 60th birthday present - one year early due to Shostakovich being mistaken about Oistrakh’s year of birth. I know some prefer the second to the first but I’m not one of them despite loving it too. Please see my review of the Daniel Hope version to read comments about the music itself. The playing again cannot be faulted, though I think the Leningrad Phil served Oistrakh better than the Moscow Phil did.
The second CD presents the Kabalevsky concerto and the concert suite by Taneyev. I’m not sure I’d ever heard either so I listened with great interest. The Kabalevsky was written at the same time (1948) as Shostakovich’s first but what a different stable it emerged from! It is firmly rooted in the 19th century tradition whilst Shostakovich’s was most definitely a twentieth century work. This is not meant to be any kind of criticism as Kabalevsky’s music is extremely attractive and Oistrakh is completely at home with the sweet nature of the tones and colouring. The recording comes through beautifully and, remarkably, dates from 1949! I’ve heard plenty of discs that date from years later that sounded dated - a recently reviewed disc of Cziffra is a case in point - whereas this sounds amazingly fresh and serves the music and Oistrakh well; much better I’ll wager, than when it was first released. Taneyev who died the same year as Scriabin, one of his pupils and whose funeral he attended at which he contracted the pneumonia which killed him, is less well known than most of his contemporaries. This is a shame as he wrote a lot of highly attractive works. He studied composition in Tchaikovsky’s class at the Moscow Conservatory and piano with the conservatory’s founder Nicolai Rubinstein. He was a highly accomplished pianist who, at the age of 19, gave the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto and impressed Tchaikovsky so much he asked him to give the premiere of his second. Finally it was Taneyev who completed and premiered Tchaikovsky’s third piano concerto and Andante and Finale. Taneyev was also a teacher whose pupils included, as well as Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninov, Reinhold Glière, Julius Conus and Nicolai Medtner. Though he was not renowned as an original creative composer he was an extremely scrupulous and thorough craftsman. Tchaikovsky regarded him as one of the few people whose opinion he valued - though he also feared it. The Concert Suite included here is a typical work of the period but is quite a long piece at over 40 minutes. There are five movements that are full of beautiful melodies. Again the playing of Oistrakh brings out every nuance and serves the music in the best possible way. In fact it is a perfect vehicle for displaying Oistrakh’s well documented sweetness of tone which is brought out to the full here.
CD3 brings us to Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto and that of Tchaikovsky. The Prokofiev dates from 1914 when the composer was just 23. It embodies youthful experimentation and sparkles with brilliance. In the expert hands of Oistrakh, it fizzes along in the most delightful way, especially when it comes to the fast and furious central scherzo. This really tests the soloist not that it is any problem for this great player. It must have seemed extremely avant-garde for 1914. I imagine it drew some barbed comments from some quarters at the time – no matter as it has found its justifiable place in the repertoire of all of the world’s violinists since then. Finally we come to one of the best known of all violin concertos, the Tchaikovsky and a particular favourite of Oistrakh whose recording on this set is the latest of all. It was performed for his sixtieth birthday concert on 27 September, 1968. As before Oistrakh’s wonderfully sweet, clear tone emphasises the brilliance of the writing. The experience is a wonderful testament to both composer and performer.
Considering almost all these recordings were made at live concerts the level of audience interruption is minimal. As stated before, the quality of sound is quite remarkable for the age of the recordings, the latest over 40 years old and the oldest over 60. It is an extremely attractive package and at Brilliant Classics’ brilliant budget price it is a no-brainer as to acquisition. If you don’t have these recordings and you admire the exceptional talent of one of music history’s greatest ever violinists nothing should stop you ordering it forthwith!