Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844) [25:45]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor, Op. 22 (1872) [27:47]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 [17:08]
Igor Oistrakh (violin); David Oistrakh (violin - Bach)
Gewandhaus-Orchester Leipzig/Franz Konwitschny
rec. 23 March-3 April 1956 (Mendelssohn, Wieniawski), 16 April 1957 (Bach) Kongresshalle, Leipzig, Germany
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300350BC [64:03]

Experience Classicsonline

This Eterna Edition CD is one of a series featuring reissued mono and analogue recordings from the former East German state-owned record label. There are 30 CDs available and these include a number of names that were active on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain and even today are still little known such as the conductors: Franz Konwitschny, Heinz Rögner, Otmar Suitner and Max Pommer. On the original Eterna Edition LP were the Mendelssohn and Wieniawski concertos recorded in 1956 played by soloist Igor Oistrakh and the Gewandhaus-Orchester Leipzig under Franz Konwitschny. Added here as a bonus item is the Bach Double Concerto from 1957 performed by Igor Oistrakh and David Oistrakh. We are not given any other information about its origins; has it been released before? A nice touch is that the series uses the cover designs taken from the original Eterna LP sleeves. Although I have received a brief press release from Eterna Edition I know little else of the recording as the booklet notes are entirely in German.
Igor Oistrakh and especially his father David Oistrakh were both noted violin virtuosos. The Jewish father and son were both born in Odessa, Ukraine which for the vast majority of their lives was part of the Soviet Union. Moravian conductor Franz Konwitschny spent most of his adult life working behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany. Konwitschny conducts the Gewandhaus-Orchester Leipzig - the same orchestra in which he started out as a fledgling violist.
Mendelssohn worked closely with the eminent violinist Ferdinand David during the composition of the E minor Violin Concerto. Right up to the time of the première he continued to make various modifications to the score. It seemed inevitable that the Concerto would emerge as a serious musical essay. It is acknowledged as one of the great masterworks of classical music,achievingtremendous popularity both in the recording studio and the concert hall. The Gewandhaus and Konwitschny prove understanding partners for the assured Igor Oistrakh. Although high on expression to compete with the very finest available versions I would have preferred extra vigour. Oistrakh’s timbre is in a sweeter, lighter style and more in the manner of a Menuhin compared to my preferences for the weightier versions from Mutter/Karajan, Chung/Dutoit and Mullova/Gardiner. Oistrakh’s playing of the second movement Andante is captivating and the buoyant themes of the ebullient Finale are taken at a brisk pace. 

A former student at the Paris Conservatoire Polish born Henryk Wieniawski is best remembered today as a distinguished violin virtuoso. Although a composer of worth he wrote virtually exclusively for the violin. Compiling a catalogue of his scores has proved a long and extremely difficult task. In recent years Wieniawski’s two violin concertos have remained under the radar. I certainly cannot remember ever having seen any of the pair on a concert programme. It is thought that Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor was commenced in 1856. The work had to wait until 1862 for its première which was held in St. Petersburg with the composer as soloist. With its long lyrical lines Igor Oistrakh creates an air of mystery in the opening Allegro moderato. Containing a lovely languid melody in the Romance I especially enjoyed the mood of the intensely romantic yet brief central section. Oistrakh is in his element with the demands of the unashamedly virtuosic Rondo, Finale. It’s a striking movement in the Hungarian Zingaresca (Gypsy) style so favoured by Paganini. In the alternative accounts of the Violin Concerto No. 2 few equal the unforced virtuosity of the 1990 performance by Gil Shaham with the LSO under Lawrence Foster on Deutsche Grammophon 431 815-2 (c/w Violin Concerto No. 1). 

It seems likely that Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 was a product of the time he was kapellmeister to his royal employer Prince Leopold at Cöthen between 1717 and 1723. There was no sacred choral tradition at Cöthen meaning that Bach had more scope for composing instrumental music; a number of which were concertos for solo instruments described as being in the manner of Vivaldi. This much loved Double Concerto has always been a favourite and Igor and David Oistrakh demonstrate their affinity for Bach’s wonderfully lyrical and attractive writing. Throughout their interplay was mightily impressive and the opening Vivace was buoyantly played and not too briskly. In the wonderfully attractive Largo the Oistrakhs convey the beautiful melodies quite serenely. The beauty of performance continues in the Allegro with fresh and lively playing of considerable character. In the Bach Double Concerto I have long admired the classic 1962 account played by David and Igor Oistrakh with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. Most impressively played and very well recorded the Oistrakh account in digitally re-mastered stereo has worn its years extremely well on Deutsche Grammophon 449 844-2 (c/w Violin Concertos, BWV 1041, 1042, Orchestral Suite No. 4, BWV 1069).
All three concertos were recorded in mono some 55 years ago at the Kongresshalle, Leipzig. The Mendelssohn and Wieniawski scores, although sounding slightly one dimensional, have a cool vivid sound that one’s ears quickly adjust to. However, the Bach sound wasn’t quite as satisfying. It seems to have been recorded at a different level and some volume adjusting is necessary. More pronounced is the one dimensional effect and the sound wasn’t quite as clear. These fine Oistrakh performances provide a partial insight into the work that was happening on the East German side of the Iron Curtain. I believe there are far superior recordings available of each work and consequently I have doubts as to who this disc will appeal to.
Michael Cookson 

Masterwork Index: Mendelssohn concerto ~~ Bach Double concerto