So many great recordings of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto by David Oistrakh, so little time. There's his recording with Dimitri Mitropoulos leading the New York Philharmonic, his recording with Yevgeny Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic, and his recording with Maxim Shostakovich leading the New Philharmonia -- this recording. Both the Mitropoulos and the Mravinsky come from 1956 -- and both are urgent, forceful performances inspired by the overwhelming need to compel conversion. The Shostakovich was recorded in 1972 -- and it, too, is an urgent, forceful performance but now without the need to compel conversion; that mission had already been accomplished. Instead, Oistrakh, supported by the intuitive and insightful conducting of the composer's son, turns in a performance of supercharged emotional intensity. While Oistrakh's earlier recordings had the fresh passion of new love, his later recording had the seasoned ardor of long acquaintance and deep knowledge. He had always known what the concerto was about; but after he'd lived with it for nearly two decades, he knew what it could do -- and exactly what to do to make it do it. The result is a brooding, brilliant, brutal, and bumptious performance that easily overshadows all other performances -- except, of course, Oistrakh's other performances.
So which Oistrakh recording to hear? It depends on the coupling. This one comes with a quite lovely performance of the First Cello Concerto by Paul Tortelier with Paavo Berglund leading the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra from 1973. The Mitropoulos, however, comes with a rip-roaring performance of the same work by Rostropovich with Eugene Ormandy leading the Philadelphia from 1959 -- an altogether more persuasive performance. On the other hand, the Mravinsky usually comes with a riveting performance of the Second Violin Concerto by Oistrakh with Rozhdestvensky leading the Moscow Philharmonic in 1968. And, to make matters more complicated, there's also an electrifying live performance of the first concerto by Oistrakh with Shostakovich leading the New Philharmonia recorded a few weeks earlier than this one that usually comes with a searing live performance of the Second Concerto by Oistrakh with Svetlanov leading the USSR Symphony, also from 1968. So which Oistrakh recording to hear? The answer, of course, is all of them.