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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 [35:16]
Sérénade Mélancolique in B flat minor, op.26 [9:57]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 82 [21:07]
David Oistrakh (violin)
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
rec. 1945-57, locations not specified
MELODIYA MELCD1002261 [66:24]

The catalogue is awash with David Oistrakh performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The violinist recorded it in the studio on six occasions and the discography is generously supplemented with countless live airings. More than any other work in his repertoire, this perennial war-horse became his calling card. As I haven’t found any striking interpretive divergence between the many readings I’ve heard, what determines my preference for one particular performance over another is usually quality of sound.

Oistrakh’s Op. 35 is compelling and of tremendous stature. Listening to his account, one can only marvel at his flawless technique. With Heifetz there’s more forward momentum, in the sense of faster tempi, and the constant feeling of him forging ahead. The overall impression is of icy detachment. Oistrakh opts for broader speeds, and the approach is more relaxed. He luxuriates in the music, savouring the moment, yet never sentimentalising it. Whilst Tchaikovsky demands of the player virtuosity of the highest order, there are many lyrical moments, and these are eloquently realised in this recording. The tone he coaxes from the fiddle is rich, voluptuous and rounded.

The sound quality in the Concerto is first rate, and the balance between soloist and orchestra ideal. The same cannot be said for the 1945 recording of the composer’s Sérénade Mélancolique, again with the same forces and Kirill Kondrashin. Here the aural image is sonically compromised, with the orchestra dimly ensconced in the background. The woodwinds are insipid and lustreless and, at times, astringent. Despite the forwardly projected sinewy violin timbre, Oistrakh’s performance is invested with a true Russian flavour, and informed with sincerity and humanity.

Once again, I couldn’t help comparing Oistrakh’s Glazunov with that of Heifetz. I felt that the latter’s recording has more of a sense of structure, with Oistrakh’s performance tending to meander and conveying less sense of direction. The recording is, however, in very decent shape for 1948.

Overall, what we have here is a very mixed bag, in terms of quality. Yet, the Tchaikovsky Concerto alone should make this a worthwhile purchase.

Stephen Greenbank