David Oistrakh

Brahms: Violin Concerto; Double Concerto

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This disc contains music-making by three longtime friends -- violinist David Oistrakh, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and conductor Kiril Kondrashin. Odessa-born Oistrakh, the only great twentieth century violinist of the Russian school not influenced by fabled teacher and pedagogue Leopold Auer, had a special fondness for the music of Brahms and he recorded much of Brahms' chamber and orchestral works several times over the course of his career. He made four commercial recordings of both the violin concerto and the double concerto, including one of the double concerto with Rostropovich and conducted by George Szell.

This violin concerto has been described as a song for the violin but on a symphonic scale, meaning that it is work of lyricism developed symphonically. Its substance is the unveiling and growth of its themes. Because it was written for his friend, Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, the finale has a Hungarian character to it. Interestingly, it was not until the 1920s, when Oistrakh heard Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti perform it, that Oistrakh realized this Hungarian influence and incorporated it in his own performances.

The double concerto, too, was composed for Joachim, but under different circumstances -- this time in an attempt to heal a breach in Brahms' friendship with that violinist. This unusual concerto, described by its composer as a "strange flight of fancy," is the last major orchestral work Brahms wrote and one with little precedent for that seemingly ill-fitting combination of solo instruments. It is a product of Brahms' preoccupation with Baroque music as evidenced by its polyphonic structure and concerto grosso texture.

This violin concerto performance is from a 1963 concert in Royal Festival Hall, London, and that of the double concerto from a concert in Royal Albert Hall, London, in 1965. Both are with Kondrashin conducting the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

In both of these works Oistrakh plays with his characteristic warm and powerful tone and consummate technique in an unostentatious fusion of musicianship and virtuosity. In the violin concerto he plays the Kreisler cadenzas. Rostropovich evidences his typical mastery of style and technique, accuracy of intonation, and fullness of tone. Both soloists are masters of freedom and flexibility of phrasing, a requirement for any outstanding musician.

The orchestra is a complementary accompanist under Kondrashin, who, interestingly enough, within four years of leaving the opera pit for the concert podium, abandoned the use of the baton and adopting a conducting technique that required the orchestral musicians to follow his mood fluctuations by slight movements of his hands and fingers, by mime, and by the expression of his eyes. This disc begins with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem of the U.S.S.R. from the 1963 concert.

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