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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806) [41:50]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 (before 1730) [18:25]
Camille SAINT-SA╦NS (1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 (1863) [8:12]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Symphony Orchestra of Moscow State Philharmony/Lev Steinberg
rec. Moscow, 1938
AQUARIUS AQVR385-2 [68:29]

I had no idea that David Oistrakh made these recordings. They were apparently taken down on sound film – like Oskar Fried’s Russian recordings of the same time – and subsequently transferred to tape from which these transfers derive. They were made at an important juncture in Oistrakh’s life – the mid-point between his win at the 1937 Ysa e International Competition in Brussels and his premiere of the Myaskovsky Violin Concerto in January 1939. And he was partnered by Lev Steinberg (1870-1945), a leading conductor of the time but one who seems to have made few (any?) commercial recordings, which is disappointing for a man who shared conducting duties at the Bolshoi with Yuri Fayer, another outstanding music director.

Be all this as it may, the repertoire is central and familiar from many studio and live recordings. It could hardly be more central than Bach and Beethoven. The sound is reasonable for the time, and circumstances, but can occasionally degrade into congestion; it remains very bright, however. In the Bach Oistrakh’s tempi are similar to those he took with Barshai in Moscow two decades later, and his tone is full, his playing irradiated by piquant slides. Steinberg is a sympathetic, buoyant accompanist. Numerous examples exist of Oistrakh’s Beethoven but previously the earliest I’d encountered was the USSR State version with Gauk in 1950. Here one really does get some idea of Steinberg’s effectiveness. He directs powerfully and with authority, drawing out, but not italicizing, the inner part writing, and sculpting powerful dynamics – the blare in fortissimos is the recording’s fault, not the conductor’s. Oistrakh’s vibrato is flexible and more centred than it became in the late 1960s when it widened appreciably; the result is a leaner and faster reading than I’d encountered from him – predictably lighter on its feet than the Ehrling recording of 1954 or the Cluytens four years later.

The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso offers a chance to enjoy Oistrakh’s suave bowing, invigorating virtuosity and pin-point articulation: the glassy recording exacerbates its closeness but it’s a price worth paying, here and throughout this disc.

I’ve followed the booklet in describing the orchestra as the Moscow State Philharmony. The one-page English note is translated from Maxim Nikiforov’s Russian text.

This is strictly for Oistrakh completists, but it represents him in his youthful prime. It also leads to the hope that his many broadcasts with Vsevolod Topilin, made at the same time and mentioned in the notes, might one day be released in full.

Jonathan Woolf

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