Naxos 8.111246, 70:15 ****:
What a delight to have these Columbia records by Russian violin virtuoso David Oistrakh (1908-1974) reissued in lovingly-engineered, clean, crisp sound by Mark Obert-Thorn! I well recall owning the 24 December 1955 inscription ML 5085 (mono LP), with its exquisite balance between solo and orchestra in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, cadenzas by Ferdinand David. While never a big Ormandy devotee, I always gave him and his lush Philadelphia Orchestra full credit for their ever-reliable accompaniments to the great soloists with whom they worked. The Bach E Major (from ML 5087) has very little to do with current “authenticity” modalities; rather, it is a voluptuous, eminently sensuous reading of the Bach concerto which Oistrakh preferred of the two solo masterpieces. A tender intimacy in Bach’s Adagio movement, the Oistrakh tone its usual rich, middle-of-musical-marshmallow accurate.
The Russians, Oistrakh and Kogan, were devoted to Mozart’s G Major Concerto; Oistrakh played the A Major Concerto as part of his 1956 debut programs with Mitropoulos. Oistrakh decided he would record the K. 218, cadenzas by Ferdinand David, for his Philadelphia sessions. The opening Allegro is all frothy energy, an unbroken series of galant gestures in gorgeous packaging. The upward scales and trills (on the upper note) are supremely deft, and the registration shifts never interrupt the inexorable pulse he and Ormandy set. The tempo for the Andante cantabile is a tad slow to my taste, and I have maintained that Jiri Novak and Vaclav Talich got it just right. Of the cantabile quality there can be no doubt; likely, Oistrakh is serenading the gods as I write. The Rondeau captures the refined world of Louis XIV with verve and a free spirit. Tripping figures, aristocratic verve, and wonderful, elastic rhythms make this interpretation immortal.
If I had to audition another Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, it may as well be this one. These were the first notes of music I had ever heard Oistrakh play; when money permitted, I was off to the record shop to purchase his Beethoven Concerto with Cluytens on EMI. The rounded immediacy of Oistrakh’s attack in the Mendelssohn is a study in formidable technique. Hard driven, the first movement proves sentimental in spite of itself. Volatile, molten figures fly forth, always under control, the cantabile melody assuming the character of a hymn. After a noble Larghetto, a song without words, the fiddly Finale is all sparks, chutes, and exalted ladders. First class!
— Gary Lemco