Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto No. 1.
David Oistrakh (vn); Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond;
New York P;
Eugene Ormandy, cond;
SONY 81221, mono
David Oistrakh’s American premiere of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto (of which he had given the Russian premiere with Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic exactly two months before) created a sensation, and the recording that Sony has now released as part of its “Great Performances” series took place a day later. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra has included the recording made of the live premiere, and however deeply it may have penetrated the score with Mitropoulos on the next day, the live performance sounds as though its voltage had been cranked up a great deal by comparison. But that shouldn’t deter collectors from purchasing Sony’s new issue. Now, enhanced by Sony’s DSD and SBM Direct technologies, the performance (which Sony had previously released in its “Masterworks Heritage” series as 63327), makes a more profound impression than ever. Oistrakh’s ruminations in the mysterious first movement, his biting sarcasm in the Scherzo, his sounding of the Passacaglia’s depths, his sure dramatic sense in building the long and rhetorically complex cadenza to its culmination, and his flippancy in the finale—all these emerge with stunning clarity in the newly engineered recorded sound. For years, Oistrakh’s recordings—of which this was the first, preceding his Russian recording with Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic by almost a year (the American release on Monitor 2014 includes an article written for
, No. 7, 1956, by Oistrakh himself)—dominated the catalogs—Kogan didn’t begin his series of three recordings until 1961. Despite the fact that recordings by Viktoria Mullova and Itzhak Perlman received reviews that compared Oistrakh’s initial performances unfavorably to them, the older violinist still holds sway; and those who doubt it can simply listen to this recording, which, in its new re-mastering, provides almost the experience of hearing the performance for the first time. Although the sound may not be equal to what’s achievable on original digital recording, it still sounds simply overpowering.
In the 1950s, many of Oistrakh’s recordings appeared on labels that imported Russian performances, and often the recorded sound of these left a great deal to be desired. State-of-the-art stereo recordings like the one of the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra from December 14, 1959 (he’d recorded Sibelius’s Concerto with them two days earlier), came as a special blessing—what I’ve called a “transfiguration” (in 26:4). As did Shostakovich’s First Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s bore a close identification with the violinist, who recorded it in the studio at least five times, beginning in 1938, and EMI has made available a video of a live performance from 1968 with Rozhdestvensky and the Moscow Philharmonic. Oistrakh is miked about as close as Columbia used to come to Isaac Stern in those days, creating a thrilling tonal portrait, if setting up unrealistic expectations, especially perhaps for the violinists so recorded. Nevertheless, for violin students looking for heroes, these recordings offered a gallery of colossuses. What a way to study Oistrakh!
The landmark recording of Shostakovich’s Concerto, the granddaddy of them all, still deserves an urgent recommendation after half a century, and that of Tchaikovsky’s deserves a very, very strong one. These recordings should be in every violinist’s library, and in everyone else’s too, come to think of it.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
David Oistrakh (Violin)
Written: 1878; Russia
II. Scherzo. Allegro non troppo
III. Passacaglia. Andante
IV. Burlesca. Allegro con brio
III. Finale. Allegro vivacissimo
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