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Nathan Milstein Volume 1
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Flight of the Bumblebee [1.16]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Meditation from Thais (same performance, two transfers) [3.45]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)

Scherzo-Tarantelle in G minor Op.16 (1856) [3.29]
Caprice-Etude in A Op.18 [1.28]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

Violin Sonata in A major RV31 arr. RESPIGHI [5.54]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor Op.26 (1868) [24.01]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Sonata No.2 in A Op.100 (1886) [18.29]
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Caprices Op.1 Nos 5 and 17 [5.42]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Abendlied [2.35]
Nathan Milstein (violin) with
Valentin Pavlovsky (piano)
Artur Balsam (piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Artur Rodzinski
Recorded 1933-44
DOREMI DHR 7706 [74.04]

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Milstein has been well served recently in respect of his live performances. Both Music and Arts and Bridge, for instance, have issued some authoritative recordings that act as fine supplementary material for his commercial discography.

Doremi has also entered the arena with its own selection. This first volume is something of a mixed affair that takes in Concert Hall broadcasts and V-discs from the latter stages of the War and adds the relatively familiar live Copenhagen recordings of two Paganini caprices that collectors have long known from their original appearance on Danacord. Certainly the most exciting item is the Brahms Second Sonata, a work I don’t believe Milstein recorded commercially. There’s also a big concerto – Bruch’s G minor – and a Vivaldi-Respighi sonata alongside some sweetmeats and a finger-buster or three.

The Brahms is taken at a broadly Heifetz-like tempo, that’s to say rather faster than one is used to hearing the sonata today, or even in the days of the classic Suk-Katchen Decca traversal. His partner is Valentin Pavlovsky, a decent player though not one who measures up to the standards set by Artur Balsam, a regular sonata colleague of the violinist’s. The highlight is the slow movement, notable for the subtlety of Milstein’s inflexions and vibrato usage, particulars one can hear with that much more clarity because the skewed balance strongly favours the violin over the piano.

The Bruch Concerto remained a staple of Milstein’s and he left multiple commercial recordings of it. My favourite happens to be the Pittsburgh/Steinberg, which I’ll take over the 1942 New York/Barbirolli, good though that is. This New York/Rodzinski performance may summon up rather more the Barbirolli ethos than the Steinberg but actually it highlights a certain weakness in the violinist’s approach to this work. One can forgive the initial intonational problems - it takes him a good couple of minutes to play himself in – as well as the subterranean bass frequencies, limited aural perspective and the small untidiness in the orchestral playing. But Milstein’s approach was always one of understatement in this work and to be frank he tends to sound reserved and aloof; never cold or unfeeling, just not inclined to lavish tonal allure and free romantic expression in this work.

The Vivaldi-Respighi is recorded in some of the best sound on the disc – Milstein was a mini pioneering baroque performer on 78 – whilst the Rimsky is recorded on a boxy 1944 V-disc. We can listen to the Massenet Thais in the same performance but transferred using two different styli, a GE and a Stanton cartridge. This is unusual enough to note – and engineer and Doremi chief Jacob Harnoy notes the differing qualities to be found using these different styli. Milstein’s nonchalant virtuosity can be heard in the Wieniawski and Paganini and as a bonus we can hear some introductions from Lionel Barrymore, though he’s nowhere credited in the documentation.

So something of a mixed recital of concerti, sonatas, genre and encore pieces alike. Variable though some pieces are this is a fine salute to Milstein, adding materially to our appreciation and awareness of previously intractable elements of his repertoire. In that I especially mention the Brahms. Milstein was seldom less than exalted in his playing and much of this programme is precisely that – Olympian.

Jonathan Woolf

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