Thursday 22 September 2016

Oistrakh Hunting Season

Classical music seems simultaneously very good and very bad at documenting itself. You want David Oistrakh playing the Brahms Concerto? Count the ways. You want a definitive list of his recordings, studio and live? Forget it. For this is the frustration of one caught, as I am, in the grip of an Oistrakh-hunting obsession: clues and signs and no definitive answers to exactly what he played and quite when he played it.

More specifically, I’m trying to ascertain just how many Oistrakh performances of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto are out there, on the way to writing something about the performance history of this piece. Shostakovich wrote the piece with Oistrakh in mind in 1948; indeed, it was while writing the concerto that the composer was denounced at a meeting of the Union of Soviet Composers. Shostakovich tucked it away and waited for a better climate, which came, in 1955, as the cultural thaw was beginning in the wake of Stalin’s death. Shostakovich conceded to a few alterations suggested by Oistrakh, and the concerto was premiered in October 1955 with the Leningrad Philharmonic under Mravinsky. As far as I can tell, the first recorded performance seems to have been a tape of an early concert in New York with the NYPO and Dmitri Mitropoulos on New Year’s Day 1956, the day before the concerto’s first studio session. The studio recording has been rereleased a number of times, most recently by Sony, but the live broadcast seems only to have been released in an expensive box of NYPO broadcasts which, while I’m very interested to hear, I’m not £100 of interested.

Then there’s a 1956 live concert tape from Vienna published a few years ago by Orfeo, followed by a more familiar studio recording with the Leningraders and Mravinsky at the end of the year. Mravinsky and Oistrakh then appeared at the 1957 Prague Spring Festival, this time with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (a rare away match for Mra). We then jump to Edinburgh in 1962 for a live recording with Rozhdestvensky, which has been widely available for years via BBC Legends. I recently found a filmed performance from 1967 with the unexpected accompaniment of Heinz Fricke and the Staatskapelle Berlin. And then it’s to 1972 for Oistrakh’s final recorded performances of the piece – apparently a concert with Maxim Shostakovich and the New Philharmonia and a subsequent and easily available studio version with the same team, via EMI.

All in, if these performances all really exist, that’s nine recorded performances of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto by David Oistrakh:

January 1st 1956 – Live performance with NYPO and Mitropoulos (Released in a 10CD set from the orchestra’s own label)

June 21st 1956 – Live from Vienna with Leningrad PO and Mravinsky (Orfeo CD)

1972 – Live with New Philharmonia and Maxim Shostakovich (mentioned in this review)

1972 – Studio performance with New Philharmonia and Maxim Shostakovich (EMI)

The only one I’m dubious about is the first from 1972, as I’ve not seen any reference to any release. I’m quite sure there must be more broadcast performances tucked away in archives and it seems very likely that the 1955 premiere performance was taped, but what we have represents a remarkable record of the evolution of a performer’s way with one of the great concertos of the century. If you know any more, or can shed light on that 1972 live performance, leave a comment below.

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