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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 [47:59]
Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Concerto No. 6 in F major for violin and piano, Hob. XVIII [20:37]
Igor Oistrakh (violin)
Natalia Zertsalova (piano)
Moscow State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Valentin Zhuk (Elgar)
Ensemble of the Soloists of Moscow State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Valentin Zhuk
rec. Moscow, 1984 (Elgar); 1985 (Haydn). ADD
MELODIYA MELCD1002384 [68:00]

In the spotlight here is Igor Oistrakh (b. 1931 in Odessa), the son of David Oistrakh (1908-1974). Melodiya present him in concertos by Elgar and Haydn. Oistrakh, Moscow and Zhuk are the common adhesive.

As determined collectors will know, Melodiya have been friends of Elgar's music for quite some time. Their Gerontius and Second Symphony/Sea Pictures have held a brave and sometimes besieged peripheral place in the pantheon for many a year. The Svetlanov-conducted USSRSO Elgar 2 first emerged on an EMI Concert Classics LP (SXLP 30539) in 1978. It has come out again on Scribendum as part of their provocative and often joyous 20-CD Svetlanov box (SC501) in the last few months. It is again coupled with a Soviet Sea Pictures. The Svetlanov Gerontius was reviewed here by John Quinn and Ralph Moore. The Russians have done well by British composers: quite apart from the mid-1960s LPs of orchestral works by two Alans, Rawsthorne and Bush, there have been a complete cycle of the RVW symphonies from Rozhdestvensky. The same conductor has delved deep into neglected British orchestral repertoire (Bax, Scott, Tippett) in concerts broadcast in depths of the night by BBC Radio 3's excellent Through The Night programme.

Igor Oistrakh and Zhuk serve up a big, dazzling version of the Elgar which, provided you do not have hang-ups about analogue sound, you should hear. It's hyper-emotional Elgar but not chaotic. In fact, it abounds in the delights of poignant precision - listen to the staccato playing two minutes in to the finale and, for that matter, at 8:53 in the first movement. The irrepressible spirit of this playing recalls Leonid Kogan in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto - another favourite. There's a hard-edged yet luxurious amplitude of tone from both orchestra and soloist and it's nothing short of gripping. The recorded balance is fairly close-in on Oistrakh. I would have liked to have heard more from the horns in the first and last movements but the balance appears to have veiled them. Overall though, there's nothing bloodless or emaciated about this reading. Indeed Oistrakh's deep-pile tone also recalls that of another yesteryear proponent of the Elgar: Alfredo Campoli. If you are fearful of the usual generalities about Soviet orchestra being crude and harsh be reassured by sampling the first two minutes of the second movement. By the way Oistrakh does not rush the Concerto. He takes about 47 minutes against Heifetz's 41 minutes.

A word of warning: this reviewer's preferences in the Elgar Concerto have been shaped by the various voices of Heifetz (my desert island version), Kennedy (both recordings: Handley and Rattle), Bean and Sammons. Further confirming my isolation is my preference for Solti's version of Elgar's Second Symphony over the versions conducted by all those hallowed British knights and paladins. You have been warned.

This Oistrakh Elgar has appeared before but in different harness. When issued by Olympia on OCD 242 in the early 1990s it came in an AAD transfer. It was accompanied by another English concerto but with a different soloist: Boris Gutnikov played the Britten with the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Alexander Dmitriev. That has gone the deleted way of all flesh although I see that Amazon has it at a sensible price secondhand.

For me the sticking point with this Melodiya disc is the coupling. I would have preferred a more apt companion but at least you get to hear more from the rapturous Igor Oistrakh. The Haydn is treated to a highly romanticised reading which is out of sorts with today's and yesterday's orthodoxy. Once again the balance for him and for Natalia Zertsalova, Oistrakh's long-standing ensemble partner and pupil of Yakov Flier is breathtakingly close.

Disparate companion works but a delightful disc and a grand version of the Elgar that will speak to music-lovers everywhere.

Rob Barnett



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