Collection: David Oistrakh in Prague

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Brahms,Mozart,Schubert
LABELS: Praga
WORKS: Second Sonata; A minor Sonata
PERFORMER: David Oistrakh (violin); various accompanists, orchestras, conductors
CATALOGUE NO: PR 256007-12 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1947-72)

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Jowelled, furrowed, assertive – David Oistrakh (1908-74) used to cut a distinctive figure. Lionised by Prague and its Cold War Spring Festivals for more than a quarter of a century, he was the complete master violinist, a man never in a hurry.

The present collection assembles a spectacular array of Czech Radio concert broadcasts spanning a period from May 1947 to July 1972. Witness to a special order of genius caught on the wing, their musicality and drama, naturally breathed phrasing and total sense of commitment and unforced projection are awesome to re-experience. Oistrakh’s friendship with the cream of the old Soviet establishment was legendary.

Here it yields a predictably towering Shostakovich A minor with Mravinsky and the Czech PO less than two years after its Leningrad premiere; a Khachaturian D minor under Kubelík (Prague SO), successful not least for its seriousness and lack of histrionics; a brilliant Prokofiev First featuring the young Temirkanov, then Mravinsky’s assistant; and a Glazunov (with Kondrashin) which, like the Dvorák Concerto (under Ancerl), dreams in a poetic mirror all its own.

At the piano in the chamber offerings – including Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and some fabulously bluesy Ravel – Frida Bauer is unstinting: what an astonishingly versatile, strong, secure partner she was. There’s also Lev Oborin, winner of the first Chopin Warsaw Competition, as part of the Oistrakh Trio (with the cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky), and, in the swansong of his life, characterfully shaping the less familiar Grieg Second Sonata.

Allow, though, for the source of this material. Be prepared for the upfront and the distant, bad atmospherics, ghosting voices, remote pianos in disembodied counterpoint, the pea-souper hiss of air-waves and pre-Dolby magnetic tape.

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The sound quality is very variable. There are post-production problems, too – from drop-outs, abruptly cut-off ambience and variably removed applause, to inter-track noise, confused, contradictory cue points, and the unexplained drop-in. Anomalies between packaging and booklet dates go unchecked.