Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953)
Violin Sonata No.1 in F minor Op.80 [27:48]; Five Pieces from Cinderella [16:30]
César FRANCK (1822 - 1890)
Violin Sonata in A [28:29]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)
Vocalise [6:44]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Waltz-Scherzo op. 34 [5:24]; Meditation [9:32]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Hungarian Dances Nos. 5, 8, 9 [7:22]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865 - 1936)
Meditation [3:56]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903 - 1978)
Chanson Poème [5:40]; Dance in B major [4:22]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Violin Sonata No.9 in A Kreutzer [33:13]
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697 - 1764)
Violin Sonata in D Op.9 No.3 [10:25 ]
Eugene YSAYE (1858 - 1931)
Sonata for solo Violin in E Major Op.27 No.6 [6:24]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Lev Oborin (piano: Beethoven, Franck, Prokofiev), Vladimir Yampolsky (piano: others)
rec. Paris, 1953-54 (?)
VANGUARD OVC4080/2 [3 CDs: 56:54 + 60:10 + 50:22]

There is no information in the CD booklet about the recording dates or venues for these Oistrakh sessions. It’s a fair assumption that what we have is a collection of the violinist’s recordings made in Paris in 1953 and 1954 during his first visit to Western Europe. Originally released on three Vanguard LPs these performances gave the general record-buying public its first real glimpse of Oistrakh’s artistry. In those days Soviet musicians were known to audiences outside Russia by name only. Some pirate recordings and radio broadcasts surfaced now and again but there was little opportunity to hear musicians such as Oistrakh on a regular basis. At the time of their release these records must have been something of a revelation, showcasing as they did a violinist in his mid-40s at the peak of his technical and musical powers.

Oistrakh was without doubt one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists. These early recordings demonstrate his luscious unforced tone, immaculate intonation and effortless technique. More importantly, everything he does is first and foremost about serving the music. At no time is there ever any hint of showmanship in his playing and there’s not an ugly note to be heard. Taken at face value there may not be the obvious, overt technical wizardry of Heifetz to be heard in these recordings but the musical perfection of Oistrakh’s playing, with its seamless singing tone, is peerless.

The three key works in the collection are the Beethoven, Prokofiev and Franck sonatas with Lev Oborin as the accompanist. Beethoven's Kreutzer is a great performance with excellent control and some wonderful work by Oborin in his supporting role. I like the cool approach and lack of sentimentality. The music has a shape and dignity about it. The Franck can often sound too inward-looking but Oistrakh plays it with a warmth and romanticism that avoids the trap of the first movement especially, becoming too maudlin. The Prokofiev is sparkling, sensitive and fiery and it’s up there with the Beethoven as being one of the best interpretations available. Judging from these sonatas, the Oistrakh/Oborin partnership was special. Despite the age of the recordings, Oistrakh’s tone shines through but it’s a shame that the Prokofiev and Beethoven are spoilt by a noticeable background hum. I have no idea about the source used for these transfers but surely this problem should have been rectified. The Prokofiev is clean. The Leclair and Ysaye - more fabulous playing - are also dogged by the same hum issue. It may not be ruinous but it certainly detracts from the enjoyment.

The encores make splendid fillers. The Rachmaninov Vocalise is six minutes of sheer pleasure. Yes, it may be luscious and sentimental but Oistrakh's phrasing and legato are breathtaking. At the other end of the spectrum the Brahms Hungarian Dances are faultless in their unforced virtuosity. The piano is somewhat distant in the encore pieces and there are also a few signs of tape wear.

Despite the technical flaws this set should be welcomed back into circulation. More care should have been taken in making the transfers and the documentation is shoddy but at the end of the day this is release is all about Oistrakh. He was a fabulous musician.
John Whitmore


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