Notes and Editorial Reviews
DAVID OÏSTRAKH, ARTIST OF THE PEOPLE?
David Oistrakh (vn); various accompaniments
MEDICI ARTS 3073178 (DVD: 75:49)
David K. Nelson reviewed Bruno Monsaingeon’s documentary on David Oistrakh upon its first appearance in VHS format, and I remember him discussing the talking heads, the almost maddening brevity of the musical excerpts, and the pathetic figure Oistrakh cut on stage wearing his Soviet medals. But David wrote his review before such a wealth of complete footage of various Oistrakh performances became available: now that
a collector can obtain without much trouble hours of these videos, and now that Monsaingeon’s program has been released on DVD (coinciding with the centennial of Oistrakh’s birth on September 30, 1908, although the booklet doesn’t explicitly mention it), collectors may take renewed interest, especially since the interviewees of 14 years ago (Igor Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, and Gidon Kremer) have passed either from one stage to another in their careers or from the world altogether.
As Monsaingeon makes clear in the booklet, Menuhin and Oistrakh embody for him the art of violin-playing, with all the others occupying a second tier. That would presumably include Heifetz, Stern, Milstein, and Francescatti, four of the violinists identified in
on February 2, 1962, along with Oistrakh, as the “best violinists,” a list that notably didn’t include Menuhin (and there may even be those heretics who preferred Crown Prince Leonid to King David, but Kogan appears only in a fleeting shot and receives nary a mention in the documentary’s text). Monsaingeon’s minority opinion, however, doesn’t pervade or even color the video itself, so aficionados of the four canonized in
, as well as those who might look backward to Kreisler, Ysaÿe, or Paganini for their heroes, needn’t watch the presentation with chips defiantly poised on their shoulders.
Since music plays almost continuously, it assumes a greater importance than it might if the heads bobbed and talked unaccompanied. A list of the repertoire should reveal to collectors that while lots of the clips have now become widely available, there’s still fascination aplenty. So, while the excerpts remain excerpts and don’t belong in a headnote, here’s what’s there for miners to unearth: Bach: Double Concerto (with Igor); Beethoven: Violin Sonatas No. 1 and No. 9; Brahms: Violin Concerto and “Double” Concerto (with Rostropovich); Chopin: Nocturne (transcribed by Sarasate); Debussy:
La plus que lente
Liebesleid, Variations on a Theme by Corelli
; Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Moszkowski:
(arranged by Sarasate); Mozart: Sinfonia concertante (with Igor); Violin Concerto No. 4 (part of a rehearsal of the first movement, by itself worth the entire price of the DVD); Paganini:
, Caprice No. 17; Rachmaninoff: Prélude, Vocalise; Ravel: Violin Sonata; Schumann:
(transcribed by Auer); Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1: Finale and Violin Concerto No. 2: Cadenza; Sibelius: Violin Concerto; Tchaikovsky:
Chant sans paroles
(transcribed by Kreisler) and Violin Concerto. This list should by itself supply everything needed for many aficionados to decide whether to buy the issue. For example, I’ve seen the cadenza from Shostakovich’s First Concerto in another of Monsaingeon’s productions (“The Art of Violin,” NVC Arts 8573-85801), but none of the finale. Others new to me included the excerpt from the finale of Ravel’s Sonata and some of the short pieces.
The story itself careens from the depressing (as when Rozhdestvensky describes the red tape he encountered trying to stay in Europe for several days to conduct a memorial to Oistrakh) to the frightening (Rostropovich relating a conversation in which Oistrakh supposedly confessed that he had felt obligated to sign a letter condemning his colleague). But something of Oistrakh’s human warmth emerges as well, in simple scenes with the great violinist doing ordinary things. And I won’t spoil Gidon Kremer’s (fascinating) remarks about studying with Oistrakh by quoting them. Monsaingeon makes himself felt throughout not only by means of the script and interviews, but also by some clever editing. As he did in the opening sequences of the above-mentioned documentary on the violin by splicing together a series of violinists playing Mendelssohn’s Concerto, he cuts back and forth during the discussion of Oistrakh as a teacher between teacher and pupil (Kremer) playing the first movement of Sibelius’s Concerto.
Only those looking for complete musical performances should be disappointed. For future generations, Monsaingeon’s documentary should provide a look into the past that’s both terrifying and heartening. And the music—well, it’s Oistrakh. As the song goes, “Who could ask for anything more?”
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Original languages: Russian, English
Subtitles: English, French
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 75 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9) Read less
Works on This Recording
Work(s) by Various
David Oistrakh (Violin)
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