The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: David Oistrakh (violin) Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyril Kondrashin (conductor)
Composer: Brahms

The Moscow Philharmonic’s excitable introduction to the Brahms Violin Concerto sets the scene for the whole of this 1963 performance in London’s Royal Festival Hall. David Oistrakh, a very different violinist from the one we hear in his warm and weighty studio recording nine years earlier with the Dresden Staatskapelle, offers a performance of youthful exuberance despite the fact he was well turned 50. The atmosphere in the outer movements is highly charged, full of spontaneity and at one with Kyril Kondrashin’s moments of wilfully idiosyncratic phrasing. Tempos, including in the central movement, are pushed forward with urgency, and there’s a fiery sense of risk-taking. Even more surprising are Oistrakh’s fallible intonation and a number of passages that are frayed around the edges.

The mood continued two years later when orchestra and conductor came to the Royal Albert Hall with Mstislav Rostropovich joining Oistrakh in a passionate reading of the Brahms ‘Double’ Concerto. After the intimate opening exchange by the soloists, Kondrashin ups the temperature with a big and bold orchestral statement that sets the main Allegro in motion. In the more relaxed sections, particularly in the central movement, you can admire the cello’s burnished quality and Oistrakh’s beguilingly honeyed tone. Yet here again there are too many technical lapses, and I gladly returned to the studio-made disc of the lower-octane partnership of Oistrakh and Pierre Fournier (not currently available).

There is one moment in the finale of the ‘Double’ Concerto when the recording drops the cello perspective back into the orchestra, but otherwise the sound is unexpectedly good.