BBC Legends – David Oistrakh & Mstislav Rostropovich

0 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op.102 [Double Concerto]

National Anthem of the USSR

David Oistrakh (violin)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Kyril Kondrashin

Violin Concerto (and USSR National Anthem) recorded on 19 September 1963 in the Royal Festival Hall, London; Double Concerto recorded on 9 October 1965 in the Royal Albert Hall, London

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: January 2007
BBCL 4197-2
Duration: 72 minutes

I suspect that when most people see yet another Brahms Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh, they stifle a groan and roll their eyes. There seem to have been innumerable studio and live versions in the catalogue over the years and all of these, from the mid-1950s onwards, are much of a muchness. So I can only assume that BBC Legends felt a need to have a Brahms Concerto with Oistrakh for the sake of completeness and that it was a suitable coupling for the Double Concerto. For the booklet-note writer Tully Potter, the recordings are also of interest because they illustrate why Kyril Kondrashin was “perhaps the best concerto accompanist among the great 20th-century conductors”. As to what Barbirolli, Bernstein, Colin Davis, Eugen Jochum and Koussevitzky – to name but a few – would make of this comment, one can only surmise!

Oistrakh is typically assertive in the first movement of the Violin Concerto. There are no great tempo changes and yet the soaring lyricism combined with the absolute control that Heifetz and Koussevitzky bring to this music is only hinted at. Even the rapturous line the soloist weaves over the orchestra after the cadenza fails to blossom. The start of the Adagio is let down by an acidic out-of-tune oboe and the limp accompanying rhythm. Nor at any point does Oistrakh truly rhapsodise: here, like the strings he plays on, there is a cold steely quality to everything he does. There is no heart. Much the same can be said of the finale. It is authoritative and intense, but there is little sense of dance from either soloist or orchestra.

Things improve enormously in the Double Concerto. After the brief orchestral introduction, the cello moves the exposition forward with a cadenza-like passage which the violin then takes up. Oistrakh almost matches Rostropovich’s impassioned assault on the music, although he can’t equal the cellist’s intensity of tone and expression. This is no bad thing: it brings variety of expression to the movement and both soloists are remarkably together in terms of ensemble. It all moves forward with great gusto, and Kondrashin and the orchestra offer incisive, characterful support.

However, less volume and more mystery in the orchestral opening to the slow movement would have been beneficial. When the soloists enter, they are eloquent with the sumptuous first subject and, in Oistrakh’s case, everything that was missing in the violin concerto’s slow movement is here. He responds to Rostropovich’s passion. At the start of the finale, Rostropovich phrases the first theme with smooth insouciance while Oistrakh is spikier; both combine to sing the second theme beautifully. The movement is slightly let down by the rigidity of the orchestral statements of the first theme, but this is a great performance nonetheless.

In terms of the (mono) sound the disc is acceptable – the British Library tapes were clearly in reasonable condition. Inevitably the dynamic range is limited, there is some pitch instability and a thin trebly quality does intrude in the Double Concerto, but the ear adjusts and there is nothing too distracting.

All in all, then, a release that offers a fascinating insight into the interplay between two very different artists and a great performance of the Double Concerto, but one that doesn’t entirely support Mr Potter’s assertion.

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