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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



 

 

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For information and sales please contact Alex Sedgwick at alex@sedgwickphoto.com or 29 Belsize Avenue, London NW3 4BL

NINA MILKINA AT THE WIGMORE HALL
CD 1

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

French Overture in b
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757

Sonatas: E KK.20, b KK.27, B KK.262, G KK.125, E flat KK.507, B flat KK.190, F KK.17, f KK.481, F KK.107, g KK.141, D KK.430, G KK.427
CD 2

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Sonata in e Hob.XVI/34
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Minuet in D K.355, Sonata in D K.576
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

3 Ecossaises op. 72, Nocturne in c sharp op. Posth
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Etudes op. 8: 10 in D flat, 11 in b flat, 12 in d sharp
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Prelude in G op. 32/5
Sergei PROKOFIEF (1891-1953)

Suggestion diabolique op. 4/4
Nina Milkina (piano)
Recorded June 1972 at the Wigmore Hall
UNTERSCHRIFT CLASSICS (no number) [2 CDs: 77:49+75:25]

The title "Nina Milkina at the Wigmore Hall" may suggest a live recital but no, these are recordings made originally for Pye in the Wigmore Hall but under studio conditions. All the same, while a single recital would not have contained so much music as these two well-filled CDs, the actual mix of composers is characteristic of the programmes with which this artist delighted audiences at the Wigmore Hall and elsewhere from the 1930s through to her retirement for reasons of health in 1991. The Pye catalogue is now owned by EMI who have decided in their wisdom that a reissue of these recordings on one of their own labels is of no interest; at least they have been sufficiently enlightened as to make the masters available to the family for a private CD transfer (the above-named Alex Sedgwick is Nina Milkina’s son) and in a just world they would make the family fortune, for this is a wonderful tribute to an artist who, having made only a very few records, is scarcely a name to younger listeners today.

Of the two works which make up the second volume of Bach’s Klavierübung, the Italian Concerto and the French Overture, it is the former which has become a standard repertory choice, its smaller dimensions and thematic linearity making it a useful curtain-raiser for aspiring artists, while the French Overture is often felt to be over-long and, worse still, to have its melodic lines excessively cluttered, in the French manner, with ornaments and flourishes. Not, however, when it is played as well as Nina Milkina plays it. It is true that her gentle opening, without a jerky double-dotting in sight, may suggest a Bach interpreter of yesteryear (when this same music returns at the end of the Ouverture, she begins grandly, gradually subsiding to piano), but her nimble staccato playing of the main fugal section is timeless and has a clarity that even a harpsichordist would envy. In all the following dances she maintains the textures light and the melodic lines clear, no small achievement in the second gavotte with its concentration on the lower register of the keyboard. Many pianists of the pre-Gould generation (Kempff for instance) preferred to omit most of Bach’s trills, mordents and the like, on the ground that they worked on the harpsichord but disturbed the melodic line on the piano. Nina Milkina plays them and shows that, with a proper touch, they do not in any way prejudice melodic simplicity. A certain B minor melancholy hovers over this work, yet the overall impression of this performance is that of Bach as a friendly, companionable composer.

If the Bach gets a beautiful performance, the Scarlatti is quite wonderful. At times Milkina’s staccato touch has such a fiery brilliance that she seems actually to be playing a harpsichord. Yet she does not hesitate to enlist the full range of piano sonorities when Scarlatti is evoking the thrumming of a guitar or the sheer mystery of Spain. She finds a different sound-world for each sonata and her improvisatory manner always reveals the sense of Scarlatti’s often wayward changes of direction. Whatever other Scarlatti you have in your collection, don’t miss this.

The prevailing tone of Milkina’s Haydn and Mozart is gentle, songful and friendly, though this does not prevent her from rapping out the opening octaves of the Mozart sonata most assertively or from drawing attention to the surprising harmonic twists in the extraordinary D major minuet. In the early days of the BBC Third Programme Nina Milkina performed all Mozart’s sonatas, and she also gave a bicentennial programme in 1956 at the Edinburgh Festival. It would be nice to think that at least some of this material survives and may one day be issued on CD.

In the public mind, Milkina’s name was associated above all with Mozart and Chopin. Unterschrift Classics have already reissued her recordings of the Mazurkas and Preludes, both of which I have previously reviewed. (My apologies to readers who attempted to order the disc of Preludes; the e-mail address given in the review was an old one. That listed above is correct). The Ecossaises seem to belong neither to Chopin nor to Scotland, but Milkina makes the most of their salon charms. The Nocturne is also comparatively rare (Rubinstein’s set of the Nocturnes does not include it) but is wholly characteristic of the composer and is performed with a beautifully sustained singing line and great poetry.

The considerable difficulties of the Scriabin studies clearly do not worry Milkina, who concentrates on their purely musical values, finding humour in no. 10 and a gentle songfulness in no. 11. No. 12 is a favourite encore piece of college students, and those who regard it as above all an excuse to make a lot of noise might be disappointed by Milkina, who builds it up gradually, finding grandeur and dignity as well as passion. The Rachmaninov prelude, with its inconsolable rocking motive, is moving in its restraint while in the Prokofief her innate musicality finds a sinister fairy-tale rather than an exercise in hard-hitting virtuosity.

Though I have never heard the original LPs, the transfers are clearly excellent and the piano sound stands up very well to modern standards (better, perhaps, than was the case with the Chopin issues); the booklet has good notes by David Mather. I can only conclude as I began; this is a wonderful tribute to an artist whose name should never have passed into semi-oblivion and I hope it will have the success it deserves.

Reminder: the other CDs by Nina Milkina available from Unterschrift Classics are:

Chopin: Complete Mazurkas (2 CDs) (see review)

Chopin: Preludes (see comparative review "A Quintet of Chopin Preludes").

Christopher Howell



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