Prokofiev: Violin Concertos 1 & 2 / David Oistrakh

Release Date: 1/1/2013
Catalog Number: 628892B
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

CD
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Oistrakh’s style suits the lyricism of the Prokofiev Concertos and his performances are entirely convincing, while this recording of the Second Sonata is as near definitive as anyone has a right to expect. If you admire Oistrakh’s violin playing (and who doesn’t?) this disc will bring perennial delight.

-- Gramophone

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The composer, Prokofiev, and his interpreter, David Oistrakh, made a chess odd couple, with the wildly attacking Prokofiev held at bay by the steadfastly positional Oistrakh. Unlike whatever sterile mutual masochism bound them together over the board, though, their musical collaboration turned out to be highly productive. In his notes to his recording of Prokofiev’s First Concerto, Ilya Gringolts mentions that, just opposite to their popularity in the West, that First Concerto, rather than the Second, remains dominant in the former Soviet Union. Its early champion in Russia, David Oistrakh, played a role similar to that of Szigeti in popularizing the piece in the West. In fact, between 1947 and 1971, Oistrakh recorded it no fewer than seven times. The performance included in EMI’s new re-release first appeared in 1955, having been recorded on November 18 and 21, 1954. As David Gutman mentions in his notes, the engineers drew very close to Oistrakh—in fact, to an extent that might have embarrassed even Isaac Stern. Those who consider this concerto an intimate work that subtly interweaves solo and ensemble could find such an unblinking focus disturbing; but since it picks up the very bite of his bow into the string, it affords a chance to hear him in an especially revealing way. Szigeti’s view of the concerto amounts almost to a negative image of Oistrakh’s: hard, gem-like, sardonic, and brittle, it differs as night from day from Oistrakh’s dreamy mysticism, enlivened by a wit and even a jazzy nonchalance in the last movement that would have lain comfortably within Szigeti’s expressive range had he chosen to read the relevant passages that way. Szigeti never recorded Prokofiev’s lyrical Second Concerto, and Oistrakh did so only once—and that time, tellingly, not in his homeland. The engineers set him further back in this 1959 stereo release (recorded May 14 and 19, 1958). The recessed Oistrakh also seems less committed to the concerto at hand, although his being buried under swirling orchestral detail in the slow movement may give an inaccurate impression of dimmed intensity. Nevertheless, the one violinist who seems likely to have produced a version competitive with Heifetz’s two simply didn’t approach the Master’s electricity in this work (and the slow movement’s tempo and the orchestra’s lack of spikiness, which Gutman cites in the notes, hardly tell the whole story).

Prokofiev’s flute sonata, reworked at Oistrakh’s suggestion, and with the violinist’s help, makes a violin sonata of surprisingly divergent character. I can remember working on the piece next door to a flute player practicing the “same” work, and both of us emerging from our practice rooms to argue the superiority of the other version. While the violin’s Scherzo strikes sparks and its finale spews fire and brimstone, the flute maintains lyrical equanimity. Milstein’s reading makes almost as strong a contrast (perhaps on account of his greater archness in singing passages) with Oistrakh’s in this 1956 release, recorded in May 22, 1955,—but who can dismiss the original arranger and interpreter’s ideas? Yampolsky passes over bass growls that could bring the first movement more down-and-dirty and Oistrakh doesn’t slink in black satin so alluringly as Milstein does in the Andante. Both violinists exhibit masterful dynamism in the slashing finale.

Such a release deserves consideration as a document of sorts. Oistrakh remains the primary source for Prokofiev’s violin music, and as such, his recordings of it belong in every collection. Few should be offended to hear Oistrakh so close up at work as in this Prokofiev First Concerto (with its clear though lush orchestral background hardly cheated), his only recording of the Second, and a serenely contemplative reading of the sonata with a Parthian mule-kick. Does it belong in the series of “Great Recordings of the Century”? For my money, it does, but at the periphery.

Robert Maxham, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
1. Concerto for Violin no 1 in D major, Op. 19 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: David Oistrakh (Violin)
Conductor: Lovro von Matacic
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1916-1917 ; Russia
2. Concerto for Violin no 1 in D major, Op. 19 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: David Oistrakh (Violin)
Conductor: Lovro von Matacic
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1916-1917 ; Russia
3. Concerto for Violin no 2 in G minor, Op. 63 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: David Oistrakh (Violin)
Conductor: Alceo Galliera
Orchestra/Ensemble: Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1935 ; Paris, France
4. Concerto for Violin no 2 in G minor, Op. 63 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: David Oistrakh (Violin)
Conductor: Alceo Galliera
Orchestra/Ensemble: Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1935 ; Paris, France
5. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in D major, Op. 94bis by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: David Oistrakh (Violin), Vladimir Yampolsky (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944 ; USSR
6. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in D major, Op. 94bis by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: David Oistrakh (Violin), Vladimir Yampolsky (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944 ; USSR
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