David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter Live at Alice Tully Hall

by | May 18, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter Live at Alice Tully Hall

Program: BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1; Scherzo from Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 “Spring”; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108
Performers: David Oistrakh, violin & Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Studio: VAI DVD 4369
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 52 minutes
Rating: ****

For sheer joy of musical collaboration, savor this fine video record from 18 March 1970, when two great Soviet artists, David Oistrakh (1908-1974) and Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), played Beethoven and Brahms at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. The performance marked their debut together on world television. The audience is as inspired as the two musicians, clapping enough at their initial entry to warrant two separate bows. The Beethoven A Major Sonata ensues, all equality of parts, with Oistrakh’s rich, burnished tone matched against Richter’s pearly details. The chaste camerawork focuses on Oistrakh’s violin, certainly; but we do go behind Richter to see his bespectacled concentration at the piano score while we have Oistrakh in relief. The music produces so many colors, we forget the visual components of the violin’s wood and strings, and the whiteness of the piano keyboard. All smiles at first, the two musicians segue into sang-froid efficiency in the Beethoven, moving through cascades of chiseled sound. Quite passionate.

The Brahms D Minor Sonata merely extends the rarified ether these two artists project. When Richter hits the solo chords after the opening Allegro’s tutti, Oistrakh responds with ever more rasping intensity.  The rapt concentration of each player manages intimacy and ensemble at once; Brahms may never again receive such loving treatment. That Richter can subdue his monolithic sonority to blend into Oistrakh’s sultry, obsessive riffs is the very definition of musical partnership. The silence after the opening movement bespeaks the solemnity of a church. The Adagio then proceeds, half ardent love-song, half noble dirge.  Oistrakh’s tone is more severe than its wonted sweetness, adjusted for the incisive character of Richter’s sonority. The playful, sentimental presto relaxes the tension only momentarily; the throes of passionate eruption soon overwhelm the levity of the occasion. Mount Etna boils over in the Presto agitato, not so much dynamically but for intense unity of effect. The driven quality of the realization, the forward motion becomes demonic, with the piano part’s echoing the gallop of Schubert’s Der Erlkonig. The sense of tragic resignation in the stepwise melody is eminently palpable.  The encore, a simultaneously deft, enchanting version of the canonic Scherzo from Beethoven’s F Major Sonata, teases us into thinking that, were these two men politicians, the evils of the Cold War could never have existed.  The kiss Richter bestows on Oistrakh says it all.

— Gary Lemco

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