Igor Oistrakh has been a concert violinist for over twenty years now. His highly successful appearances of international competitions: the World Youth Festival in Budapest (1949, first prize), the Henri Wieniawski Competition in Poznan (1052, first prize), performances in the concert halls of Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and other cities of the Soviet Union, tours in the countries of all five continents (including the USA, England. France, Italy. the FRG. ,Japan. Australia and the GDR), brought the violinist world recognition. In February 1368 he had the honorary title of Merited Artist of the RSFSR conferred upon him.
Igor Oistrakh has played with the leading orchestras of the USSR and of other countries that were conducted by the most eminent conductors of the day. H-; three took part in the Pablo Casals Festivals. Pahlo Casals remarked that his joint appearances with the Soviet musician brought him great satisfaction and his estimation of I. Oistrakh’s musicianship was very high.
Here follow some quotations from reviews in the press.
„His thoughtful and perceptive playing, beautiful and expressive tone. prove that he is a first-class virtuoso and a profound artist.” („Sovetskaya Muzyka”).
„Igor is a subtle musician and a perceptive artist to (he marrow of his bones.” („Nouvelles revue 3e Lausanne”).
„What a noble and superb violinist this young Oistrakh is! His sound sings and his technique is faultless.” („Express”, Vienna).
„This violinist possesses all: fantastic technique, beautiful tone and such a sense of music that both technique and sound are obedient to his interpretation. („Gazette”. Montreal).
„His playing received ever growing public recognition. He finished with an astounding virtuosity that put him on the level with Heifetz”. („Times”, New York).
The original musical output of Paganini, distinguished by vivid national features, permits us to speak of him as of the finest Italian instrumentalist of the first half of the I9th century. The democratic tendency of Paganini’s performance, (hat was always intended for wide circles of listeners. stipulated the diversity in terms of genre and stylistic peculiarities of his violin music. He created a new type of romantic concerto, enriched the theme-and-variations compositions, introduced into the repertory of violinists short lyrical and virtuosic pieces and treated the capriccio form (caprice) in a novel way. Besides a large number of violin pieces Paganini wrote HO pieces for the guitar, over 20 string quartets, numerous duets for violin and guitar, and vocal works. The most interesting compositions of the great Italian virtuoso are (he celebrated 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violin and pieces like the „Cantabile” or „Perpetuum mobile”. It is in these compositions that the new instrumental style, with its characteristic melodic and virtuosic features, is most fully revealed.
Many violin works of the master are written in the form of theme-and-variations. Contrastiveness and drive are the two major qualities that distinguish his variational technique. One representative piece of this kind is the „Introduction and variations on the G string theme from G. Rossini’s opera „Moses”, (1818—1819), a composition that was originally written for violin and orchestra.
The other side of this record contains eight caprices by Paganini from op. 1. These caprices, written in 1801—1802, have the author’s subtitle: „Dedicated to artists”. This inscription indicated that the composer intended them for mature artists, masters of violin art. In these pieces the technical resources of the violin are remarkably exploited and they are often filled with imagination and poetic fancy. In his writings Joseph Joachim said: „I am forever discovering in them greater poetic richness and originality of composition.”
Boldly introducing new technique and enriching the expressive devices of the instrument, Paganini extended the horizons of violin writing and playing. In his caprices he gave a new colouristic interpretation of the violin, an interpretation that was based on the full exploitation of the entire range of the instrument, including the highest registers, different kinds of double stops, chords, pizzicato, performance on the modified G string, „hammered”, „bouncing” and „flying” strokes, etc. Paganini’s „24 caprices” can be said to be an encyclopedia of Romantic Instrumental technique. For a long time these pieces were considered Io be too complex for execution and they remain to this day among the most difficult compositions in world violin literature.
When the Caprices appeared, played by the great virtuoso himself, they enraptured his contemporaries. Bertold Damcke, the German musical critic, pianist and composer, described Paganini’s performance thus: „Passion is the essence of his musical character. And it is passion that overwhelmingly prevails in all his creations, now it sighs like a gloomy storm, now blazes like a bright flame. „He is at his best in the most striking contrasts and for him no dissonances are loo sharp, no matter where they appear, in the main part or the accompaniment. In his playing fortissimo is frequently followed by the quietest of patter and the most violent of storms by a soulful melody”.
Ludwig Rellstab, the German novelist and musicologist, stated: ‘ „All great violinists whose playing I had occasion to hear, have their own style, they can be imitated… yet Paganini as me-rely Paganini does not exist: he is identified now with bliss, now with desire. At times he is the personification of mockery, madness, agony; he is never the same and is, therefore, unique. For him sounds are but a means of expressing him-self.”
Paganini’s personality and art had magic effect on many musicians on his day and Liszt, Chopin .and Schumann were among those who were electrified by his performance.
Schumann first heard Paganini play in 1830, when the great Italian was touring Frankfurt on Main. After the concert Schumann, who was at that time a student of the Heidelberg University, wrote In his diary: „In the evening — Paganini It was sheer delight! Under his figures even the driest of exercises become fervent, like the prophesies of Pylhias”. And it was under the influence of Paganini’s art that Schumann, notwithstanding the resistance of his parents to the idea, decided once and for all to devote himself to music and the Piano Etudes after Paganini’s caprices, op. 3 and 10, were one of his first compositions. In un-signed reviews to these arrangements Schumann dwelt at length of Paganini’s creative work and called him „the first among the new Italian corn-posers”, he also remarked upon the „rare fresh-ness and lightness” of the caprices, their „diamond-like durability” and „mighty spirit meriting respect”.