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(1908 - 1974)

Born David Kolker on 30 September 1908, he took the name of his musician stepfather; his mother was also musical and often took him to the opera. At three he was given a toy fiddle but not until he was five did he begin serious studies, at the school of Piotr Stoliarsky: through this eccentric but effective teacher, Oistrakh absorbed mainly Czech traditions, escaping the Hungarian influence which predominated in Russia. Only in the 1920s, when he came under the spell of the Auer pupil Miron Poliakin and the Hungarian soloist Joseph Szigeti, did he start to absorb the Magyar tradition, and by then it was wholly beneficial, feeding into his already well-developed love of Brahms’s music. In 1923 he entered the Odessa Institute of Music and Drama and gave his first concerto performance, Bach’s Concerto in A minor, and in 1924 he made his recital début. His graduation programme in 1926 consisted of Bach’s Chaconne, Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata, Prokofiev’s First Concerto and Rubinstein’s Viola Sonata. The following year he was crushed when Prokofiev publicly slated his interpretation of the concerto, but later they became chess-playing friends and Prokofiev wrote two sonatas for him.

In 1928 Oistrakh moved to Moscow and in 1934 he became an assistant professor at the conservatory. He won the 1935 Leningrad competition but weeks later was beaten by sixteen-year-old Ginette Neveu in the Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw—even the French juror Gabriel Bouillon suspected anti-Semitism. Oistrakh made his Paris, Vienna and Budapest débuts and formed a sonata duo with Lev Oborin. His triumph in the Ysaÿe Competition made him the hottest property among Soviet fiddlers. He became a full professor at the conservatory in 1938 and premièred the Miaskovsky and Khachaturian Concertos. The war kept him at home, giving hundreds of concerts. He and Oborin linked up with Sviatoslav Knushevitzky in 1941 to form a trio (later there was also a string quartet, with Piotr Bondarenko, Mikhail Terian and Knushevitzky). During the war Oistrakh’s friendship with Shostakovich developed—it brought him two concertos and a sonata. His international career, begun in 1946 in Prague, took off in the 1950s and the Russian and American premières of Shostakovich’s First Concerto in 1955 set the seal on his fame. From 1959 he took up conducting and in 1967 he began to play sonatas with Sviatoslav Richter. He died suddenly in Amsterdam on 23 October 1974.

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