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
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
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.