recorded Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto no less than four times
with conductors as diverse as Frederick Stock, Charles Munch,
William Steinberg and Claudio Abbado. The 1953 recording with
Munch has until now been the least known of these, probably
because it had limited circulation outside the States; it was
issued only in France. This was more to do with record company
politics - HMV at the time distributed RCA Victor recordings
in the UK, and wanted to promote their recent recording of the
concerto with Heifetz rather than Milstein’s version - than
a reflection on the performance which is excellent.
In his native Russia
as a young man Milstein learnt the concerto under the guidance
of Leopold Auer, the virtuoso who famously had initially rejected
the work on account of its difficulties, only to become one
of its staunchest advocates in later years. There is therefore
a real sense of tradition with Milstein’s performance going
back through Auer to the composer himself.
transfer, using a near pristine French LP, successfully captures
Milstein’s athletic tone and the weight and body of the Boston
Symphony in the spacious acoustic of Symphony Hall. Tchaikovsky
is perhaps not the first composer we would associate with Munch
but he provides a fine performance of the score, as he did with
the Serenade for Strings, among other works. Milstein
effectively combines nobility with bravura in a manner that
can elude some players.
The remainder of
the disc contains a number of arrangements by Leroy Anderson
and others of popular pieces by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Fauré
and Stephen Foster. These are accompanied by a pick-up orchestra
conducted by Arthur Fiedler and won’t be to all tastes, although
in all Milstein’s tone and musicianship is beyond reproach.
Foster’s “Old Folks at Home” makes a particularly heartfelt
impression, a great artist turning his hand to a musical trifle
and in doing so turning it to gold. I’m reminded here of a similar
instance: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s performance of “Danny Boy”
recorded with Gerald Moore in 1958.
The three violin
and piano works with Artur Balsam are played with Milstein’s
usual finesse and bravura, and the disc concludes with two tracks
in which Milstein duets with the Italian bass Ezio Pinza in
Calm as the night and
None but the lonely heart.
In all the above tracks
the transfers are excellent combining clarity and warmth with
little or no background noise.