Mozart, Shostakovich: Violin Concerti / Oistrakh, Mravinsky, Leningrad Po

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MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5. 1 SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1 2 David Oistrakh (vn); Evgeny Mravinsky, cond; Leningrad PO ORFEO 736 081, mono (64: 06) Live: Vienna 6/21/1956; 1 6/23/1952 2

Gottfried Kraus’s booklet notes point out that although Oistrakh had appeared in Russian-controlled Vienna after WW II, the concerts in June 1956 marked the debut of the Leningrad Philharmonic there. (Fortunately, the engineers captured these in crisp, surprisingly realistic recorded sound.) Yehudi Menuhin had earlier played Mozart’s Third and Fourth Concertos, and Oistrakh followed with the Fifth. He had already recorded it with Kondrashin in 1947 and with Konwitschny in 1954 (and he would commit it to disc once again, toward the end of his career, in 1970, playing with, and conducting, the Berlin Philharmonic). He also played the Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Mitropoulos when he visited the United States in 1956. If this live performance in Vienna represents Oistrakh as edgier than he usually sounds (as Kraus points out in the notes), his reading hardly lacks sensitivity or his identifiable tonal intensity. Neither the first movement and its cadenza (by Joachim) nor the second movement takes any prisoners: they’re straightforward and even matter-of-fact, yet without giving an impression that the soloist remained aloof from either the music or the audience. And he introduced a special poignancy into the second movement’s middle section—a poignancy enhanced by the sumptuous, detailed orchestral accompaniment. He’s elegant in the movement proper and piquantly energetic in the finale’s Turkish episode.

The recording of Shostakovich’s First Concerto falls halfway between those with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic on January 2, 1956 (the even more exciting live Western premiere from the night before has also been available from time to time), and the performance with Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic on November 30th of the same year. Oistrakh, then approaching the age of 50, communicated haunting mystery in the first movement, caustic mordancy in the second, probing profundity in the third, virtuosic strength in the cadenza, and breathtaking energy in the finale—all in benchmark proportions that still haven’t been quite equaled (in fact, they don’t mix with quite the same success in his later live performance with his son Maxim and the New Philharmonia from November 20, 1972—he’d record it again, for the last time, I believe, with the same orchestra five days later—when Oistrakh had already entered his sixties). In general, the live performance from Vienna sounds especially elegant and lavish in suggestivity in the first movement. The engineers don’t seem to have brought as much definition to the lower strings as would Columbia or, later, the Russian engineers in the November studio recording. The Scherzo seems more burly and massive than its cousins in other performances, while in the Passacaglia, Oistrakh gives the impression of heightened intensity. The cadenza and finale really break away, growing almost frightening in their ferocity (if this finale, in particular, can sound flippant even in vintage Oistrakh performances, it certainly doesn’t do so here).

For live performances of some of Oistrakh’s most characteristic repertoire, as well as for documentary significance, Orfeo’s release deserves a very high recommendation. It might have been an urgent one had the recorded sound provided clearer definition.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ORF-C736081

  • UPC: 4011790736129

  • Label: Orfeo

  • Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Yevgeny Mravinsky

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: David Oistrakh