Bach’s Double Violin Concerto


THERE are many recordings of J S Bach’s Double Violin Concerto but I have chosen this one because it brings together two of the greatest violinists of all time, Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh. It was filmed in Paris in 1958, with the RTF Chamber Orchestra conducted by Pierre Capdevielle.

The much-loved Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was an astonishingly prolific composer, leaving more than 1,000 known works. He wrote this beautiful concerto between 1717 and 1723. For me, the second movement (begins at about 4:36) is utterly sublime. As one of the YouTube commenters says: ‘Can’t imagine how a human being composed such a divine thing.’

David Oistrakh was born into a Jewish family in Odessa, Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1908, and performed his first concert at the age of six. During the war he was not allowed to travel abroad but played extensively for troops and factory workers.

Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York to a family of Lithuanian Jews in 1916, and made his first public appearance at seven. He performed for Allied troops during the war, and for concentration camp survivors after their liberation in 1945.

That year he was invited to Moscow and at the airport to greet him was Oistrakh. ‘From that day on,’ recalled Menuhin, ‘and until his death in 1974, we never stopped playing together. I didn’t speak Russian, he didn’t speak English, but we communicated in a sort of German dialect. He was a prince, the best colleague I ever had.’ 

Menuhin spent most of his performing career based in Britain. He established music schools in England, Europe and America, and died in 1999, aged 85.

There is a touching comment on YouTube from Oliver Jia: ‘Yehudi Menuhin was the one who gave my father a full music scholarship and a life outside of China. I very likely owe my life to this man.’ His father, Hong-Guang Jia, is now assistant concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

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