David Oistrakh in Violin Concertos by BACH, VIVALDI, MOZART, LECLAIR, KODALY & MEYER – Berlin Classics (2)

by | Aug 2, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

David Oistrakh in Violin Concertos = BACH: Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins, BWV 1043; VIVALDI: Concerto grosso in A Minor for 2 Violins and Strings, Op. 3, No. 8; MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”; LECLAIR: Sonata in d Major; KODALY: 3 Hungarian Dances; MEYER: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra – David Oistrakh, violin/Igor Oistrakh, violin/Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig/ Staatskapell Dresden/Franz Konwitschny/ Staatskapelle Berlin/Otmar Suitner (Meyer)

Berlin Classics 0184612BC, (2 CDs) 77:52; 36:19  [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

In order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974), Berlin Classics reissues several fine concerto collaborations 1954-1957 with conductor Franz Konwitschny  (1901-1962) in the Bach and Vivaldi double concertos (from April 1957), which have been prior issued via DGG collaborations led by Oistrakh himself and Sir Eugene Goossens.  Here, the stunning sound bestows a spacious breadth to each of the soloists, especially as they appear as the continuo against the assaults of the larger ripieno ensemble. Igor Oistrakh (b. 1931) commands his own reverence, merging seamlessly in harmony with his father in the transcendent second movement of the Bach D Minor Concerto and again in the Larghetto e spiritoso from Vivaldi’s Op. 3, L’estro Armonico. The easy fluency of ensemble lit by a familial joie de vivre cannot be denied.

The Mozart Turkish Concerto (1955) again joins David Oistrakh with Franz Konwitschny, now in Dresden, and a spirited elegant procession the A Major Concerto becomes. Less than a year later, I January 1956, Oistrakh would play this amazing piece in New York, with Mitropoulos, for his American debut. The militant staccati strokes of the first movement alternate with sweeping, broad gestures that yet accommodate discreet portamenti in the musical line’s give-and-take. Oistrakh’s cadenza leads back to the orchestral coda with an urgent necessity.  A stately Adagio follows in deliberate colors, Oistrakh’s sweet tone and measured trill in layered, diaphanous pastels. The Rondeau: Tempo di Menuetto, with its famous Seraglio sentiments, combines demure grace with rustic spontaneity, Apollo’s concession to the sizzling spark of the exotic.  

The Leclair Sonata in D, always an Oistrakh staple, receives a tasteful studio realization with pianist Naum Walter, from Berlin, February 1954. The opening Adagio molto maestoso avoid ponderousness and proceeds with a light hand, easy on vibrato and a rather nasal tone from Oistrakh.  One might compare the respective magisterial Baroque styles of Oistrakh and Milstein for their common ancestry, which refuses–to acknowledge Menuhin’s carp–to paint only in oils. A sweet, emotional Sarabande leads to the second of the fast movements, a trippingly fleet Tambourin embowered in ornamental flowers and drone effects. Few pieces could be so stylistic disparate as the Three Hungarian Dances by Kodaly (rec. February 1954), folk music with a distinctly, Magyar, modal affect. The sheer strength of Oistrakh’s pizzicati rival Walter’s piano staccatos. Dance No. 2 nods to Bartok in its aggressive audacity, now ringing, now purring, now strident. Dance No. 3, attacca, has Oistrakh’s playing Kodaly as if he were Sarasate, a real gypsy spin.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra–dedicated to David Oistrakh– by Ernst Hermann Meyer (1905-1988), a pupil of Paul Hindemith and Max Butting at the Berlin College of Music, still does not qualify as “standard repertory,” and Oistrakh showed rare initiative to assume a new concerto at age 57. In 1963 Oistrakh attended a Dresden Staatskapelle Concert in Moscow that included a Meyer work, his Symphony for Strings. Impressed, Oistrakh asked Meyer if he had composed a violin concerto. Working with Otmar Suitner (b. 1922), the East German conductor, at the Christuskirche, Berlin (2-4 March 1965), Oistrakh devotes his immense abilities to this disarming, lyrical and dramatic work whose syntax falls within the range of tonality and melodic content. Oistrakh called the Meyer Concerto “a symphony in disguise with violin obbligato.”

Meyer opens with a long first movement Romanza, lyrical and declamatory at once, often marked by tremolo strings under Oistrakh so that he sings in the midst of fogs or nebulae. There are militant sections and a quasi-cadenza passages wherein Oistrakh intones solo. The occasional fortissimos throw us emotionally askew, as it seems the composer intended. The fifteen-minute middle movement is marked Dramma musicale, eroico, lirico e gracioso, the concerto’s emotional center, brashly explosive as it is often intimate. The use of percussion in this movement nods to Bartok and Shostakovich, though the tenor of the music–especially in the use of low woodwinds and harp–remains idiosyncratic and slightly exotic, reminiscent of Khachaturian. Dazzling, delirious riffs from Oistrakh break into a new, convulsively angry section over xylophone, buzzing strings, and snare and kettle drums. When it soothes down, the violin purrs and whispers, the woodwinds gurgling a pastoral brook from Smetana’s Moldau. The writing reminds one of the Berg Concerto, eerie, misty, haunted. A scherzando appears, light, conciliatory, despite sporadic outbursts from the string tutti. Oistrakh’s flute tone competes with the orchestra’s flute principal, then a series of syncopes and solo chromatic scales pay homage to Bartok’s Solo Sonata. The orchestra crashes back in, and the violin and orchestra surge to a vivacious, darkly unnerving close. Finally, the Epilogo, motivated by a poem by Fuernberg, “When I go home at last. . .I will be a stranger,” which imparts a dark elegiac resignation on the entire movement. The violin seems to walk toward Calvary, a hard-won resolution, a personal odyssey as told by the Aesop of the Violin. Music of distinction and lasting value: try it.
–Gary Lemco

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