Notes and Editorial Reviews
DAVID OISTRAKH COLLECTION. VOLUME 14
David Oistrakh (vn); Torleif Lönnerholm
(ob); Frans Helmersson
(vc); Tore Rönnebäck
(bn); Åke Olofsson
(vc); Stig Westerberg
, David Oistrakh, cond;
David Oistrakh, cond; Greta Erikson
DOREMI 8020/1, analog (2 CDs: 142:00) Live: Stockholm 9/6/1970;
Concerto for Violin and Oboe,
Violin Concerto No. 1.
Violin Concerto No. 3.
Violin Sonata in a,
Doremi has assembled its 14th volume dedicated to violinist David Oistrakh from live performances in Stockholm during the early 1970s, and therefore offers an opportunity to hear a large selection of his later live playing as well as three pieces he hadn’t recorded: Franz Joseph Haydn’s
, Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Violin Sonata, and Tor Aulin’s
The engineers placed Oistrakh slightly behind oboist Torleif Lönnerholm (both focused in bright recorded sound) in Bach’s Concerto transcribed for violin and oboe, but despite tempos that aren’t particularly brisk, the soloists manage to propel the first movement forward while endowing it with a strong musical personality. Oistrakh might also seem a bit subordinate in the slow movement if it weren’t for his radiant musicianship and warm interchanges with Lönnerholm, which grow especially poignant as the movement draws to a close. Stig Westerberg and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra dig with gusto into the last movement; and Oistrakh sounds particularly virtuosic in its running passages. Melodiya would release an even later live performance, from June 8, 1972 with the Vienna Philharmonic, on LP.
Oistrakh doesn’t emerge, either, as the dominating partner in the quartet of soloists in Haydn’s
—perhaps a choice made as much by the engineers as by the musicians, although in the first movement they seem to have embraced the complementary musical philosophy. They elevate that philosophy to transcendental heights in the slow movement’s dialogue; while Oistrakh breaks free for a short time in the Finale’s recitative-like opening and again as he takes the lead in that movement’s thematic material.
In the live performance of Mozart’s Third Concerto from 1973, Oistrakh emerges as soloist, also serving as conductor. Here the engineers have brought him far to the fore; and he sounds richly commanding and fully himself, despite the date, in the solo part. The first movement’s performance seems considerably more energetic and commanding than that with the Otmar Nussio and the Swiss Italian Radio Orchestra from 1961, released in Dynamic’s set, CDS 389,
The Violin of David Oistrakh
—even, in this case, exuding the raw energy of Isaac Stern’s readings of the work. Any timbral impurity that suggests less than perfect tonal control in the slow movement might have been due as much to the recorded sound as to Oistrakh’s technical command. His reading of last movement is cocky and youthfully sprightly—hardly a valetudinarian effort, though this seems to be the last performance of the work available to his devotees. The first disc concludes with a performance of Tor Aulin’s
, the third of the violinist-composer’s four
, with pianist Greta Erikson, from September 8, 1971, the same date as his reading of Stenhammar’s Violin Sonata. In the manner of so many violinists of his generation, Oistrakh displays the ability here to shape and polish miniatures in a way that’s been largely lost by later performers.
The second disc begins with Brahms’s
, in a commanding live performance with cellist Åke Olofsson from September 9, 1971 (BIS released a reading from the same date on LP 331/333). Oistrakh’s magisterial way with the angular first movement, shared by Westerberg and the orchestra, as well as the detailed recorded sound combine to make this a compelling version. The second movement features striking unanimity of thought and breathless expressivity. Together, the soloists and orchestra reveal the Finale’s craggy strength and juggernaut-like power as well as some of its fire. There’s no applause at the end of this performance. From what source did it come?
Oistrakh’s name has been connected inextricably with Prokofiev’s First Concerto—as has Joseph Szigeti’s, and both made recordings of the work. As did many Russian violinists (including Nathan Milstein but not Jascha Heifetz), Oistrakh seemed to prefer the first of Prokofiev’s concertos. Once again, as with Mozart’s Concerto earlier in the collection, the live performance from 1974, the year of the violinist’s death, seems to be the last one available to Oistrakh’s admirers. He appears far in front of the orchestra, and his loamy, tonally opulent reading of the first movement betrays a slight loss of tonal and even technical control in the first movement. And that, even though he takes 10:46, more than two full minutes longer than with Kirill Kondrashin in 1963. The slow movement is similar, 4: 43 rather than the 3:49 from the same earlier performance. But it’s not just the speed, but the loss of agility and forward momentum that counts against this reading. And the Finale clocks in at 9:00, almost a minute and a half slower than the 7:31 of the performance with Kondrashin. If I’d been sitting in the hall, I’d have grown worried about him—and I’d have been right to do so. Listening to the recording, accordingly, may be a gut-wrenching experience for Oistrakh’s many aficionados: As the violinist’s last available performance of the work, it’s a sort of document; but it’s a sad one that recalls forcefully to me my father’s impressions of Fritz Kreisler’s playing as an old man, although Oistrakh had only reached only 66 in 1974.
Oistrakh never recorded Stenhammar’s Violin Sonata in the studio; did he learn it for this live performance with Greta Erikson, from September 8, 1971, also the date of Tor Aulin’s miniature from the first disc? Together, they warm to the opulently atmospheric first movement, soaring in its climaxes. The
exceeds the other movements in length, but listeners who haven’t developed a penchant for Stenhammar—or for Oistrakh’s playing—may not find its inspiration commensurate with its duration. The emotional energy returns in the last movement of this performance. Violinist Tale Olsson and pianist Lucia Negro included the Sonata in the third volume of BIS’s collection of the composer’s complete solo piano music, BIS 764, reviewed by Lawrence A. Johnson (who doubted that Olsson’s and Negro’s performance could be bettered) in
20:5. Olsson and Negro may sound at first hearing more languid, but they’ve purchased atmosphere at the expense of tempos generally slower than Oistrakh’s; and they occasionally risk losing themselves in what Wiser pointed out to be Olsson’s tonal opulence (captured in all its timbral splendor by BIS’s engineers).
Except for the devastating reading of Prokofiev’s Concerto, the collection isn’t a mixed bag, but rather an assortment of treasures, notably, perhaps, the works by Brahms and Bach and Haydn and ... and, well, actually, everything else. Strongly recommended, but don’t listen to Prokofiev’s work on a gloomy day (it will be hard enough to forget the impact it makes on a sunny one).
FANFARE: Robert Maxham