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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 [36:45]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 [33:36]
Meditation in D minor, Op. 42. No. 1 [7:36]
Leonid Kogan (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux (Brahms)
Paris Conservatory Concert Society Orchestra/Constantin Silvestri (Tchaikovsky)
rec. live, 11 January 1958, venue not given (Brahms); 1959, venue not given (Tchaikovsky)
MELODIYA MELCD1002328 [78:20]

Anticipated excitement turned to partial disappointment on close scrutiny of this new release featuring the Soviet violinist Leonid Kogan (1924-1982). In bold print in the left-hand corner of the booklet cover we see the words: ‘Live First Time On CD’. What we have in fact is a live performance of the Brahms, which has previously been issued on Doremi DHR7900, and what I am almost certain is the EMI studio recording of the Tchaikovsky. There’s the Meditation in D minor, Op. 42. No. 1, thrown in for good measure. I presume it emanates from the same sessions as the Tchaikovsky Concerto, as both works are to be found on Columbia LP SAX 2323. To confirm my suspicion I played this offering and the studio recording side by side on adjacent players, and they synchronized perfectly. The acoustic ambience was also identical. If this is the case, I can fill in some of the missing detail; it was recorded in November 1959 in the Salle Wagram, Paris.

I’ve never heard the Doremi incarnation of the Brahms Concerto, but I gather it’s prefaced by an announcement, not included here. I’m certainly pleased to make its acquaintance, as it's a compelling performance, in favourable sound. There’s a tangible rapport between soloist and conductor, Monteux’s Brahms credentials being second-to-none. Kogan plays the first movement Joachim cadenza with spectacular technical dazzle. The slow movement has a penetrating luminous warmth, followed by a finale – an energetic romp of rhythmic audacity. Audience applause is retained.

Kogan did stereo remakes of both the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky concertos with Silvestri in 1959. Two years earlier mono versions were recorded with the same orchestra, this time under André Vandernoot. I don’t find these earlier versions as successful, and I think this is partly due to Vandernoot’s rather uninspired conducting. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to be reacquainted with the Kogan/Silvestri collaboration, which I hadn’t listened to for some time. In ideal sound, the recording captures Kogan’s vibrant tonal projection and stunning digital dexterity. His flawless intonation is another plus. His sophisticated slides and position changes, tastefully applied, are used to enhance expressive effects. This has to be one of the finest outings the concerto has had: a potent mix of bravura virtuosity and rapt intensity. The Meditation in D minor makes a pleasing filler, thoughtfully nuanced and poetically engaged.

There’s an even finer recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, set down in October 1950 with the USSR State Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vassily Nebolsin in which, like Heifetz, Kogan employs the Leopold Auer embellishments at the two climactic points in the first movement. It can be found in a 10 CD Historic Russian Archives Brilliant Box, dedicated to the artist (93030). That set is well-worth seeking out not only for this, but also for the other gems to be found therein.

Kogan died at the age of only fifty-eight in a train at the Mytischa railway station while travelling between Moscow and Yaroslavl to a concert in which he was to perform with his son. In life he received many accolades, among them he was made an Honoured Artist in 1955, a People's Artist of the USSR in 1964, and received the Lenin Prize in 1965.

Stephen Greenbank

A supplementary note from Rob Barnett ...

These are two admirably beefy old-school performances and recordings. I had not heard the excellent Brahms before. Kogan is very forwardly placed in the sound-picture but it's a place you are really pleased to be at. The Tchaikovsky is the version I fixated on in my early LP collecting days. I am not talking here about a Columbia SAX LP but instead the Classics for Pleasure LP CFP 40083. This Tchaikovsky is a pearl among so many alternatives and still has the capacity to seduce. It's one of those few recordings that can make the listener chuckle with delight - such is Kogan's playing. Much the same can be said of the same violinist's Saint-Saens' Havanaise.

The Tchaikovsky has resurfaced several times including on Testament SBT1224 which should be a guarantee of a superior transfer. In your travels you may well come across the EMI Classics Kogan "Artist Profile" version from 1993 (CDZB7677322). It's very generous and also includes Kogan in the concertos by Brahms (Philharmonia/Kondrashin - also Guild), Lalo (ditto) and Beethoven (Silvestri) but the transfer of the Tchaikovsky is disappointingly harsh. I should just add that the versions of the two concertos on this Melodiya CD have been issued by the same company in a hideously expensive limited edition vinyl LP. As for Kogan's Brahms you can also hear him in Boston the next day on 11 February 1958: go to the West Hill Archives box reviewed by John Quinn.

I  missed out the Testament Recording (Testament SBT1224) when I did the comparison for the review. I do, in fact, have it. I've just checked it and unfortunately it is the mono recording with Andre Vandernoot, not the Silvestri in Stereo. The 'Artist profile'  (7677322), as you rightly say, is the Silvestri recording, and the one I did the comparison/synchronized listening to. SG


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