Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART(1756-1791)
Symphony No. 33 in B Flat, K319 [21:57]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77 [34:17]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Francesca da Rimini, Op, 32 [21:58]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Leningrad Philharmonic/Yevgeny Mravinsky
rec. live, 25 May 1956, Deutsche Staatsoper, East Berlin, Rundfunk der DDR
MELOCLASSIC MC5000 [78:13]

From 1961 Yevgeny Mravinsky abandoned the studio as he no longer considered it a guarantee of quality, especially with Melodiya in those days. As a perfectionist he wasn’t prepared to take risks. His other grumble regarded fees. The highest fees were paid to Moscow-based ensembles, whereas Leningrad artists had to settle for less. The conductor’s substantial discography consists mainly of live concert performances, and this one from May 1956, recorded for East German Radio, sees its first release on CD.

The Mozart Symphony no. 33 is a delightfully sunny work, and isn’t performed as much as it should be. Mravinsky’s opening movement exudes elegance and charm, and the Andante is shaped with a beguiling tenderness. The ebullient finale truly smiles and is delivered with vitality and elan.
The Concerto, which follows, is the most substantial work in the concert. On 29 October 1955, a year before this performance, Oistrakh, as the concerto’s dedicatee, premiered it with Mravinsky and the Leningrad orchestra. From then on it became firmly established in his repertoire. The pair performed it together on several occasions, and three of these are listed in the violinist’s discography. One emanates from Vienna with the Leningrad Philharmonic, dated 21 June 1956, and has been released on Orfeo 736 081. There’s another from 30 November 1956, with the same forces, which has had several outings on both CD and LP, and yet another featuring the Czech Philharmonic from May 1957 on Praga PR 250 052.

This latest offering from Meloclassic further supplements Oistrakh’s well-stocked discography. A head-to-head comparison of this May 1956 live radio performance with that of November the same year, which I have in its Brilliant Historic Russian Archives incarnation (92609), reveals the sonic superiority of the earlier airing. Cut from the same cloth interpretation-wise, the Rundfunk der DDR have attained a more satisfactory balance between soloist and players, with the violin having more immediacy and projection. Despite some noticeable audience presence, this is a compelling reading. There’s a probing introspection to the brooding narrative of the opening Nocturne, and a rhythmically propulsive Scherzo follows. The Passacaglia is a noble symphonic discourse, and Oistrakh’s technically flawless cadenza ushers in a brutally-scintillating Burlesque.

Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini sees Mravinsky firmly ensconced in his comfort zone. It was a favourite work of his, and was the piece he conducted when he won the Competition for Best Conductor in the USSR in Moscow 1938. He paints a dark sombre opening, and you feel the tension of the music gradually building up. Eventually a whirlwind of power and energy is unleashed, showcasing the magnificence of the composer’s orchestral scoring. In striking contrast comes the calm of the love theme, ravishingly played and ushered in on the solo clarinet. The lushness and luxuriance of the Leningrad strings here is breathtaking. The serenity doesn’t last, however, and we return to the earlier agitation and anger, bringing the work to a hair-raising finish. There may be several top of the range digital recordings of this impressive score available but not many, in my opinion, quite capture the sheer visceral quality of Mravinsky’s interpretation.

Michael Waiblinger has provided an excellent biographical portrait of Mravinsky, and several black and white photographs capture the austere demeanour of the conductor.

Stephen Greenbank