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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

  • Piano Concerto #1 in B Flat minor, Op. 23
  • Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 *
Emil Gilels, piano
* David Oistrakh, violin
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
* Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Sony Essential Classics SBK46339 DDD/*ADD
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This is a terrific bargain, with Tchaikovsky's two most famous concertos on one disc. Naturally, it's been done before and since, with varied success. Perhaps this particular program is so valuable because Oistrakh and Gilels made so few American recordings (thanks to the Cold War), and having both of them here is a winning combination. Curiously, Gilels was able to make two recordings of the Tchaikovsky 1st in the U.S. alone – of which this is the latter – but Oistrakh's collaborations with Americans were always an event.

Now that RCA and Sony work together, I would probably choose Gilels earlier studio version of the Concerto with Fritz Reiner in Chicago (RCA Living Stereo 09026-68530-2) over this live one. I find the early digital – probably from Avery Fisher Hall – less than appealing, though that Chicago recording truthfully needs some work as well. I have never been as impressed with Zubin Mehta's work in New York as his work in say, Vienna or Israel, either. I find the Philharmonic lacking in coloristic diversity and subtlety. That aside, Gilels plays with his customary mix of fire and poetry, despite a rather charmless middle Andante. Either the Sony or RCA is preferable to the pianists' EMI recording under Lorin Maazel, which I have never liked from either a sonic or artistic perspective.

On the other hand, I have no issues at all with David Oistrakh's lovely version of the Violin Concerto. Like his Sibelius with these same forces – also on Essential Classics and an amazing deal – the music benefits from both the rich Philadelphia sound, and from Oistrakh's remarkable musicality. Ormandy was always a good choice for this work, since his collaboration with Isaac Stern is also a classic reading on Sony. Stern is faster in every movement; by over a minute in the first movement, and about ten seconds in the later two. I refuse to engage in the rather subjective debate of who is the "better" violinist, but in this work, I do prefer Oistrakh's rounder and warmer tone. You really should own both, if you love the violin. The Philadelphia Orchestra sounds wonderful, especially in the winds and strings. This very generous disc is currently available as an ArkivCD issue, but can also be found from other outlets.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman