Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C, K551 Jupiter [28:59]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61 [42:28]
Leonid Kogan (violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud
rec. live, 26 November 1960, Carnegie Hall, New York

Here we have a live concert, given in Carnegie Hall in 1960. The conductor is the Austrian Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962), an unsung hero of the baton, whose recordings surely deserve more circulation. He was a tireless supporter of new music and, in the early days of his career, premiered the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók.

In this day and age when we are used to scaled-down forces, this ‘old school’ performance of Jupiter is on the grand scale yet, for me, has lost none of its potency. Cast with agreeable buoyant tempi, the outer movements have a majesty and nobility, which called to mind Josef Krips' recording. The slow movement has an urbane simplicity. The sound quality is more than satisfactory considering the recording’s provenance. Applause is retained but, surprisingly, the audience don’t appear all that enthusiastic.

It is the concerto with Kogan that is the highlight. There is no shortage of live and studio recordings of his take on the Beethoven Concerto. Browsing my own stash, I found two studio and three live ones, plus a DVD in the EMI Classic Archive series. Collectors will be most familiar with the 1959 EMI recording with Constantin Silvestri and the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire Paris. In 2002 another studio recording surfaced featuring the same orchestra under André Vandernoot, from 1957 in mono.

Leonid Kogan (1924-1982), one of the elite twentieth century fiddle players, was renowned for his superlative technical equipment and his immaculate intonation. Many compared him to Heifetz, the ne plus ultra of violin playing. Yet, I’ve always felt, listening to Kogan’s recordings — I never heard him in concert — that he doesn’t possess an individually recognizable sound like Heifetz, Kreisler, Menuhin or Oistrakh. His tone is lean and pure, penetrating and intense. His vibrato is flexible and imbues his sound with a range of colour and shade.

The first movement of the Concerto is characterized by dignity and poise, with the violinist choosing the Joachim Cadenza. In the eloquently phrased slow movement, he fails to plumb the spiritual depths of the music to quite the same extent as Menuhin. The finale is technically adept, with some thrilling, crisp articulation. As a performance this has to be one of the finest live airings of Kogan in Beethoven’s Op. 61 I’ve come across. Some of the live performances I’ve heard have been catastrophically compromised from a sonic viewpoint; this is in agreeable sound. Again, audience applause is retained.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Worth having for the Beethoven alone.