18 May 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: David Oistrakh – Brahms at the summit

David Oistrakh (born 1908 in Odessa, died 1974 in Amsterdam) was one of the preeminent violinists of the 20th century. Unlike many other soloists, David Oistrakh wasn’t a Karajan discovery.

He was the same age as Karajan and already had an international reputation when he performed and recorded with him. Oistrakh was the dedicatee of compositions by Khachaturian, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Although Karajan admired him greatly, there weren’t many occasions for both artists to collaborate. Oistrakh spent his whole life in the Soviet Union and became one of its important cultural ambassadors but concert tours in the Western countries were nevertheless irregular and complicated for Russian artists. Obviously, Karajan heard Oistrakh’s playing for the first time in the late 1940s when Walter Legge gave him a pirate pressing of Khachaturian’s violin concerto and he looked forward to their first encounter in June 1961.

Karajan conducted three concerts in Vienna with Oistrakh playing the solo part of Brahms’ violin concerto while Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy were having their summit conference in Vienna. The two statesmen did not attend the concert – but Ms Khrushcheva and Kennedy’s mother.

As we can assume from these two gentlemen in the audience, the ladies must have been sitting on the balcony left.

On these photos Nina Khrushcheva shakes hands with Herbert and Eliette von Karajan, joined by David Oistrakh.

Karajan’s and Oistrakh’s only studio recording is Beethoven’s Triple Concerto from 1969 with Sviatoslav Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich and the Berlin Philharmonic, definitely an important recording of this piece.

Karajan and Oistrakh at a party with the conductor Sir John Barbirolli in 1969

In 1972, Oistrakh played the 5th violin concerto by Mozart in Berlin with Karajan conducting the “Joint European Youth Orchestra of the Herbert von Karajan Competition”.

This clip conveys a brief impression of the rehearsals, with Karajan and Oistrakh both in a good mood.


We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan and Oistrakh. Listen to them here.

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