Various forms of the records-that-changed-my-life meme have been making the rounds lately, so I came up with my own version, which I call “The Twenty-Five Record Albums That Changed My Life.” Throughout the coming month, I’ll write about one of these albums each weekday in the rough order in which I first heard them.15. Leonid Kogan with Kiril Kondrashin and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Brahms D Major Violin Concerto, Op. 77 (Seraphim) My father had no knowledge of or interest in classical music, and I’m sure he was thrown for a loop when I asked for a violin in sixth grade and became for a time deadly serious about learning how to play it. Still, he loved me and wanted me to have as many opportunities as he could afford to give me, so he sprung for the violin and, later on, an upright piano (along with private lessons on both instruments). Almost as important, he brought home a record for me whenever time he passed through Memphis in his capacity as a traveling wholesale hardware salesman. He bought them at a now-defunct store called Poplar Tunes whose previous patrons, I later learned, had included Elvis Presley. I assume he took counsel from the salespeople there, for the albums he bought were always first-rate. The one I remember best was a 1958 recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto performed by Leonid Kogan, then one of Soviet Russia’s leading classical violinists, accompanied by Kiril Kondrashin and the Philharmonia Orchestra, at that time the top symphony orchestra in London. I knew who Brahms was, of course, but I’d yet to hear any violin concertos by anyone, and this one hit me with the force of a cranked-up cannonball. Strangely enough, it’s not a virtuoso showpiece, difficult though it is to play: it’s more like a symphony for violin and orchestra, with a magnificent first movement that is twenty minutes long, and I navigated its grandly craggy expanses as if I were a musical mountain climber. Kogan, who died in 1982, isn’t well known in the West, and while he recorded extensively, my present-day collection contains only a couple of the piano trios that he taped with Emil Gilels and Mstislav Rostropovich. I assume that he led a complicated and difficult life—he was a Russian Jew who was widely thought to be a KGB informer—but I’ve never read a biography of him and so can’t tell you much more than that. By then I played the violin competently enough to understand how hard the Brahms concerto was and appreciate in a general way how finely Kogan played it, but when you’re hearing a masterpiece for the first time, you take for granted that you’re hearing it played correctly and well. Fortunately for me, Kogan and Kondrashin performed the piece with magisterial authority, an impression that I verified long after the fact by listening to the first movement on YouTube the other day. It is a gripping interpretation, and I’m lucky that it was my first encounter with a work that means as much to me today as it did in 1970. While I now favor other, more distinctively individual interpretations, there’s nothing even slightly wrong with this one.
Brahms has always been one of the classical composers who means the most to me. My love for his music started here.
(To be continued)
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Leonid Kogan, Kiril Kondrashin, and the Philharmonia Orchestra perform the Brahms Violin Concerto in 1958:
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To read about album #1, go here.
To read about album #2, go here.
To read about album #3, go here.
To read about album #4, go here.
To read about album #5, go here.
To read about album #6, go here.
To read about album #7, go here.
To read about album #8, go here.
To read about album #9, go here.
To read about album #10, go here.
To read about album #11, go here.
To read about album #12, go here.
To read about album #13, go here.
To read about album #14, go here.