This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians.
The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity.
My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, was a student of Oistrakh for seven years at the Moscow Conservatory. In a 1986 interview with Mark Zilberquit for Book 14 of the series, The Way They Play, Krysa remembers his lessons with Oistrakh, each of which felt like “a recital in Carnegie Hall or the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.” He recalls,
Oistrakh knew what it meant for a young musician to come to his master class, what was going on in his heart and soul and how much his hands were trembling. And unobtrusively he would elevate that tension, and as soon as he could feel he had established the necessary contact with his pupil (generally he was easy to contact with), the work started…
Regarding Oistrakh’s pedagogical approach,
In the first place, it was developing of musical sincerity, which is probably of utmost importance. He was absolutely intolerant of certain things: it refers primarily to ethics and taste and as a consequence to such aspects as style of playing, choice of repertory, attitude not only to music, but to art in general…
…Harmony was really striking in him—I mean both his human charm and performance. Oistrakh’s creative work, at least for me, associates with Raphael’s paintings. In his playing there had never been any pointedness of expression or sugary sentimentalism, there had never been a trace of affectation aimed at winning over the public. And his pedagogical activities were also aimed first and foremost at guarding his pupils against such “extremes” and at teaching them to express themselves naturally and sincerely on the instrument…Almost all technological problems were solved in relation to a certain musical image, to the work at a phrase, at the sound…
On the occasions when Oistrakh played in lessons,
These were probably the most remarkable moments of our studies. His famous “Marsic” [Stradivarius] was always lying on the table. That mere fact made us tune accordingly. But when he took the instrument into his hands…He would play without preparation just anything ever written for the violin actually from any place. And how he played!
- Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, David Oistrakh, Otto Klemperer, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française Amazon
- A live concert clip from 1963 with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Kondrashin
- Oleh Krysa joins a panel discussion on David Oistrakh: Great Russian Jews Who Shaped the World