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Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, September 2011

Oistrakh and son caught live in London on both sides of the Thames

I am unclear why ICA Classics say these performances are released on DVD “for the first time.” The Mozart has been nestling in my collection for the past eight years on EMI. The differences, however, are in the striking visual improvement of its latest incarnation, the inclusion of the soloists’ and conductor’s entry, and the tuning process.

The other two works do indeed appear to be newcomers. The Bach opens proceedings as it does for EMI. Then it was Menuhin and David Oistrakh as soloists conducted by the avuncular Pierre Capdevielle; ICA has the two Oistrakhs conducted by Colin Davis. Leaving aside the ropy picture quality of the earlier one, the two performances make for fascinating comparison. For me, it is both Oistrakhs who provide the more richly rewarding experience. While Menuhin’s pronounced vibrato is a stylistic mismatch with Oistrakh père, Igor’s blends with a magical serenity verging on perfection. Only a horrendous tape wobble at 11’53” in the first movement momentarily disrupts this memorable broadcast.

The Mozart, too, is wonderfully played. The Oistrakhs’ performance of it three days earlier in Manchester under Kondrashin was apparently only the second time in 40 years that David had played the viola in public. On the podium, Menuhin cuts a gauche and inexperienced figure, bringing off phrase endings with minimal, almost casual, gestures. Somehow it works. Where the EMI disc has the Brahms Double (David Oistrakh and Rostropovich) conducted by Kondrashin in the Albert Hall, ICA has the Violin Concerto with Kondrashin in the Festival Hall, captured just nine days before the Mozart. Conductor and soloist had played the work many times before—and it shows (what a persuasive figure Kondrashin presents compared to Menuhin as he presides over a masterclass in concerto accompaniment!). Theirs is surely among the most satisfying accounts of this great concerto, one to return to repeatedly with or without the visual element.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, July 2011

David Oistrakh was a frequent visitor to London and fortunately the BBC had the foresight to film him, and to preserve the film, which was not something it always did. These three filmed performances date from 1961, in which he and his son Igor perform the Bach Double, and 1963 in which he plays a warhorse of his, the Brahms, and—a major rarity, this—the Sinfonia Concertante with Igor, with David playing the viola, conducted by Menuhin.

This last is a fascinating example of Oistrakh’s gift with the larger instrument, in which role he proves just as capable as Menuhin himself when the latter ventured into the viola repertoire. In Oistrakh’s case however there is added rarity value inasmuch as it’s said that this was only the second time in 40 years that he had played the viola in public.

We’re fortunate that quite a bit of footage of Oistrakh has survived, but these three items are making their first commercial DVD release. The Bach was recorded at the Royal Festival Hall with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the young, bequiffed Colin Davis. The director clearly had a Plan with a capital ‘P’ for this, which was to pretend that the hall didn’t exist and to concentrate on a close-up of band and soloists so as to preserve the intimacy of the performance and indeed the piece. Apart from a panning shot at the very end you wouldn’t know that this was a big hall at all, or indeed any hall. The print is a touch grainy, but it’s serviceable, but there’s a brief blip at around 11:50. The shots are across the orchestra for tuttis and front on for the soloists. The two Oistrakhs play beautifully, and this is a performance to place beside the filmed encounter between David Oistrakh and Menuhin. Davis conducts with restraint. Trainspotters will have fun picking out Raymond Leppard at the harpsichord, Emanuel Hurwitz leading the band, and the bobbing, weaving unmistakably contorted figure of violist Cecil Aronowitz.

The Mozart Sinfonia Concertante was recorded in the Royal Albert Hall. Svelte and dapper, Menuhin must be using one of Boult’s ultra long batons—he’d taken conducting lessons from the older man. The print is less grainy here, though there’s a moment of deterioration at 41:20. The Oistrakhs play from the score, not surprising really given the unaccustomed instrument David was playing—though they both often play with eyes tightly shut. Camera angles are more conventional than in the Bach. It’s a splendid performance, warm, honest and direct, though the finale isn’t as buoyant as it could be, and once or twice Menuhin struggles with a downbeat. No danger of struggling with entries from the batonless Kondrashin, master accompanist. He’s fascinating to watch, a sort of Italian traffic policeman in gesture, though without the preening. His direction is muscular, intense, unambiguous, though not quite the kind of thing Boult would have admired, no doubt. Oistrakh serves up his predictable late-period Brahms performance, powerful, strong boned, with generous vibrato. It’s very similar to his studio recording with Klemperer, and wonderful to witness. One amusing detail is the wind player who keeps constantly licking and re-licking his reed during the oboist’s solo in the slow movement. If I’d been the oboe principal I’d have killed him. Fortunately sang froid reigned in the Moscow Philharmonic.

Despite some occasional imperfections in the prints and the variable quality of the picture—remarkable how variable things could be in the early 1960s in that respect—admirers of string players will warm to this DVD, and to the estimable performances preserved here.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2011

David Oistrakh’s career as a violinist was a long one, nearly 40 years, but his exposure to Western audiences was painfully brief, only about 13 years before he turned full-time to conducting. Violinists marveled at his huge, dark, burnished sound, almost viola-like in its richness, in addition to his deeply emotional but not outré or sentimental readings. Here we are treated to three complete performances from the early 1960s, each with an outstanding and entirely sympathetic conductor.

The Bach Double Concerto is given a fine if, nowadays, old-fashioned reading by Oistrakh and his son Igor with the English Chamber Orchestra under Colin Davis. It’s interesting to hear father and son together; though an outstanding violinist in his own right, Igor produced a tone not as burnished as his father’s, though they play in perfect sympathy with each other. If you are not allergic to Bach played with constant string vibrato, you’ll enjoy this performance, despite an inexplicable pitch waver at one moment in the second movement. Davis’s crisp, clean conducting is very fine, though it’s odd to modern ears to hear a piano continuo instead of harpsichord (played by Raymond Leppard), and it’s interesting to observe his calm, measured podium manner, leading his forces with just the right (baton) hand while he turns pages with his left.

In the Mozart, Oistrakh does indeed play viola, and exceptionally well at that. The very opening shot is a curio in that we see three fine violinists all standing in a row: Igor Oistrakh, David Oistrakh, and Yehudi Menuhin, the latter in the role of conductor. I’ve always been a huge fan of Menuhin’s conducting, and here is a good example why. The reduced Moscow Philharmonic forces are no smaller than the ECO, but they sound leaner, more stylistically authentic despite the use, once again, of vibrato in the string tone and finely graded dynamics. This performance has exactly the right feel and style about it that Menuhin’s performance of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5, conducted by Karajan (reviewed in Fanfare 34:4), did not. Igor’s violin playing has a wonderful swing in the upward phrases that lifts and pushes the music along gently, while David displays his adeptness at playing what amounts to an obbligato part (albeit a very demanding one) with solo breaks. Altogether, this performance has a true ensemble feel to it, and if you can, again, tolerate string vibrato, it is a first-rate reading in every respect. Unlike Davis, Menuhin uses both hands to conduct, with wider arm movements and a bit more animation. Wonder of wonders, he is able to reduce the notorious watery vibrato of the Russian horns.

Kondrashin conducts the Brahms without a baton, in wide, fluid arm and hand movements, eliciting a rich sound from the Moscow forces. Oistrakh is equally robust in his reading of the solo part, which is astonishing in its breadth and sustained phrasing as well as the sharpness of his attacks with a full-bodied tone. An interesting footnote: At one point, I slid the timer bar back a minute or so in the first movement to catch a certain phrase again, and accidentally set it at half speed. The evenness of Oistrak’s tone, even at this wrong speed, revealed that he played with a gentle rather than an aggressive vibrato, which may have been the secret (or one of them, anyway) of his burnished tone. I found it quite interesting to compare this performance to the 1947 New York Philharmonic broadcast in which both conductor Artur Rodzinski and violinist Bronislaw Huberman drew a much leaner profile in this same music. Huberman, whose lower range also had a viola-like color, played his upper range with a much brighter, almost acidic quality, while Rodzinski and the orchestra were more of a participant in the ongoing musical drama and less in a supporting role.

Despite the sound glitch in the Bach, this is a highly recommended DVD, not only because all three performances are excellent in their own way but because it is a treat to watch this master violinist effortlessly producing a sound unlike no other.

Anne Shelley
Music Media Monthly, March 2011

One of ten current DVD releases from the ICA Classics Legacy series, this disc showcases legendary Ukrainian violinist David Oistrakh and his accomplished student and only son, Igor. The two played together often and successfully; the Bach concerto on this disc—a rich performance with the English Chamber Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis—was filmed during the duo’s first foreign engagement, a 1961 tour of Britain. Two years later, the pair partners with Yehudi Menuhin and enjoys a deservedly warm reception at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, a concert that supposedly placed a viola in David Oistrakh’s hands for only the second performance in forty years. The disc rounds out with the elder Oistrakh’s performance of Brahms’s violin concerto, op. 77, recorded within a week of his and Igor’s duet at the Royal Albert.

Both father and son taught at the Moscow Conservatory and had earned places on the “best violinists” lists of their respective generations. The jowly and virtuosic Papa Oistrakh kept good company; he rolled with Shostakovich and premiered the composer’s Violin Concertos no. 1 and no. 2, works of which David was also the dedicatee. He also played chess with Prokofiev.

As is the case with all discs in the Legacy series, this is the first time this archival footage—originally shot for televised broadcasts—has been released on DVD. All three pieces were originally filmed for television broadcasts; two standard camera angles are used for each performance, with a primary shot zoomed on the soloists and a secondary angle occasionally panning behind the ensemble or focusing on the conductor. The remastered audio is somewhat muffled but presented at a mercifully appropriate volume. Footage of David Oistrakh is widely available, but the father/son presentation is quite special and the performances are, well, splendid.

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