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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D major Op. 77 (1878)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major K216 (1775)
David Oistrakh, violin
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Otmar Nussio
Recorded Kursaal Teatro Apollo, Lugano 11 June 1961
AURA 169-2 [62.45]


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The degree of fanaticism necessary to collect all Oistrakh’s recordings of the Brahms Concerto – commercially released and live – would be considerable. So the return of the 1961 Lugano performance, once on Ermitage, doesn’t muddy the known discographic waters as much as it might. Readers will doubtless be familiar with at least one of Oistrakh’s traversals, maybe Klemperer or Szell or Konwitschny, but devotees will be able to rattle off the remaining litany; Abendroth in 1952, Kondrashin (twice, a decade apart), Pedrotti in Prague in 1961, Charles Bruck, Fritz Rieger, Abbado in 1972, Rozhdestvensky and the BBC transcription of a Sargent-led performance. All of which leads inescapably to the question; what’s so special about this Nussio performance?

Well he brings a weighty depth to the orchestral introduction and a generally convincing case is made for the exposition of the thematic material; balance is occasionally awry and trumpets not ideally blended leading to some stridency, especially later on in the Concerto. Oistrakh himself suffers from a few of the passing and inevitable failings a live concert brings with it. There is some unsteadiness in his runs in the first movement, particularly at 4.20, and some smudged notes along the way. His tone, sumptuous and big, is a characteristically welcome feature and few could deny him the glorious lyricism he can so nobly impart. Yet the climaxes don’t quite work and the climactic passagework leading to the orchestral peroration and the cadenza is seriously marred, with that trumpet blare not adding to the subtlety of the performance. Nussio is adept however at bringing out rich orchestral incident; especially the horn counterpoint in the second movement; the oboist here has an individual sense of rubato which is always lively and affecting and Oistrakh brings a questing simplicity to his line. In the finale his technique again comes under rather surprising pressure; some of his passagework is really very approximate but whilst he does settle down the rather unbalanced recording again emphasises the declamatory brass to the detriment of Brahmsian blend.

The Mozart Concerto doesn’t involve nearly as much discographic sleuthing. He conducted the Berlin Philharmonic himself in his 1971 traversal of the set of the Concertos and recorded the work with the Philharmonia as well. Ancerl in 1954 and Barshai in 1959 join with a putative von Matacic led performance to complete the list. There are some who find his big tone and romantic sensibility inimical to Mozart – the latest to find fault with him is Victoria Mullova, whose Damascene conversion to the cause of Original Instruments has led to a degree of repulsion for his voluptuous sentiment. Luckily music is a broad church and one can admire, say, Simon Standage in this repertoire as much or as little as Oistrakh or Francescatti or Kreisler. Oistrakh and Nussio conjoin in the expected big-boned performance. Enthusiastic basses drive on the argument in the first movement and at a flowing tempo in the second, well over a minute faster than his Berlin recording which found him slightly indulgent, he is radiantly expressive without the whiplash intensity that a more tonally intense player with a faster vibrato would have brought to the movement. Nussio sets good tempi here and equally in the finale – which is buoyant and appealing, and reflective of the performance as a whole.

I can’t say these are essential additions to the Oistrakh legacy but I did very much like the Mozart. Sound quality is perfectly respectable and the attractions of the disc may well offset small concerns in the Brahms.

Jonathan Woolf



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