The Ukrainian violinist David Oistrakh was born to a Jewish family in 1908 in Odessa, where he made his first public appearance at the age of six, and where he studied at the Odessa Conservatory until he was twenty years old. He then taught at the Moscow Conservatory and in 1937 he won the Queen Elisabeth Competition held in Brussels. During the Second World War Oistrakh gave concerts close to the front line and was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1942.

Oistrakh was one of a chosen group of Communist sympathizer artists permitted to tour outside the Eastern bloc. He concertized in Europe and the Americas, concurrently developing a career as a conductor. He died while on tour in Europe in 1974.

Originally recorded by Columbia Masterworks, Deutsche Gramophone, and HMV, this recording was re- mastered for Alto by Paul Arden-Taylor, of Dinmore Records.


Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K218, with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, conductor

Violin Sonata No.32 in B-flat major, K454, with Vladimir Yampolsky, piano

Violin Concerto No.5 in A Major, K. 219, with Staatskapelle Dresden, Franz Konwitschny, conductor


For some of us it is quite impossible to separate the artistry of David Oistrakh from his politics. It might be that one of my earliest concertgoing experiences was listening to Oistrakh, Emil Gilels and Aram Khachaturian in Havana as a youngster when the USSR imported the three of them to help the Cuban people welcome the arrival of Soviet Communism in the island.

Be that as it may, I have been listening to Oistrakh’s playing of two of Mozart’s concertos for violin and orchestra – one with Eugene Ormandy at the podium helming the Philadelphia Orchestra, the other with Franz Konwitschny leading the Staatskapelle Dresden. Tying to be objective, I found it hard to erase the recent memory of Hilary Hahn in the No. 4 in D Major and Anne Sophie Mutter in the No. 5 in A Major, K219 – both filled with an even mix of impassioned bravura and lyrics lightness, both contrasting sharply with Oistrakh’s disciplined, testosterone-infused, heavily-bowed, oh-so-Russian take on Mozart.

But maybe it’s just me, with all my Ukrainian friends and exiled compatriots, carrying a load of anti-Russian baggage which I ought to shed before I review another Soviet artist.

Rafael de Acha © 2023

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