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Recordings of the Month


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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, D. 574 [22:56]
Fantaisie for Violin and Piano in C major, D. 934 [21:39]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 [27:16]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Frida Bauer (piano)
rec. 1970 (Schubert), 1972 (Brahms). Venues not given.
MELODIYA MELCD1002147 [72:00]

David Oistrakh's gifts as a musical communicator and superb instrumentalist place him head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries and firmly established his status as the chief rival to Jascha Heifetz. Yet how very different these two high-flyers were. Heifetz tended to drive ahead with faster tempi in the main. His sound, which I would characterize as virile, was very personalized; his individual expressive slides and position changes enabled one to differentiate him from other fiddle players, with an immediately recognizable sound. Oistrakh's playing was much more relaxed and, to me, he seemed to savour the moment more, luxuriating in everything he delivered. All this was done with exquisite taste and sensuality.
All the violinist's trademarks are present in these superlative recordings - the magnificent technique, the poetic insights and the expressive qualities which singled him out as one of the great violinists of the twentieth century. Though his vibrato is not fast, but slow to medium, he can vary it to suit his expressive needs. When I watch films of Oistrakh, what impresses me more than anything else is his fabulous bowing technique. His powerful bow arm drew a big sound and this, together with his vibrato variance, conferred on his playing a tonal spectrum of a myriad colours. Then there's the purity of intonation and rhythmic incisiveness. It's all here.
There are two recordings of the Schubert Sonata D.574 with Frida Bauer in the Oistrakh discography. One is a Czech radio broadcast from March 1966 on Praga. This is the first outing on CD, as far as I can see, of the studio recording from 1970. Comparing the two, side-by-side, the Praga issue is in coarse sound and is definitely showing its age. There is ever so slight audience noise and the piano is recessed. Oistrakh and Bauer omit the first movement repeat in the Czech broadcast. The studio recording under review is in much better sound with ideal balance between the two instruments. The warmer acoustic of the studio is a definite bonus and the first movement repeat is restored.
Similar positive attributes apply to the Fantaisie, which according to the CD sleeve also dates from 1970. Whether it was recorded at the same session, I don't know. The discography I have dates it to 1969. The jury's out on that one. Nevertheless, it's a terrific performance; perhaps the best I've heard. There a logical and fully integrated, strand running through the narrative of the different sections.
The Brahms Sonata dates from 1972. I compared it with a live recording from the same year, again with Bauer at the piano, on Praga. It's a Czech Radio broadcast. Whilst the two readings are interpretively alike, the studio recording is in much better sound and is to be preferred between the two performances.
Oistrakh and Bauer, who was one of his accompanists and collaborators for the latter part of his career, are a class act. He always chose his pianists well. He recorded a complete Beethoven Sonata cycle with Lev Oborin who, from 1941 to 1963, played in a piano trio with him and the cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky. Coincidentally, Oborin died in 1974, the same year as the violinist. Then there was Sviatoslav Richter with whom Oistrakh played many concerts, several available on disc and DVD.
Booklet notes and track-listings are in Russian, English and French. The CD is housed in a slim gatefold, though I wasn't terribly impressed by the lacklustre, unimaginative and 'washed-out' CD cover. However, the wonderful music makes up for it.
Stephen Greenbank