Nathan Milstein in Portrait: Some Memories
of a Quiet Musician
A film in
two parts by Christopher Nupen
Featuring interviews with Nathan Milstein in conversation
with Christopher Nupen, and Pinchas Zukerman with contributions
by Thérèse Milstein and Yuri Nagai
Includes Nathan Milstein (violin) in performance, with Georges
Pludermacher (piano), playing
Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata
and Bach Chaconne
rec. 1986, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm ALLEGRO
FILMS A06CND [2
violinists’ violinist … Everyone
in our world treasures him … He disdains fanfare and flattery.
He is a man neither in need nor in awe of fame.” -
Pinchas Zukerman during the Kennedy Centre Awards in honour
of Nathan Milstein
is the second and very welcome Christopher Nupen film to
be released on DVD. The first release featuring the life
and music of Sibelius was one of my six recordings of 2006.
For further details about Nupen’s films please see the footnote
at the end of this review.
Nupen’s deep understanding and knowledge of music, and empathy
and sympathy for artists is always apparent in his work.
His interviews dig deeper, reveal so much more. It took Nupen
three years of gentle, patient coaxing to persuade the retiring
Milstein to participate in this project. Milstein’s mother
had impressed on him that he should avoid publicity. How
refreshing and in marked contrast to some of today’s posing
interviews, with Nupen and Milstein’s friend Pinchas Zukerman,
are a delight, revealing, often very wittily, Milstein’s
memories of a host of musical personalities. They include
how he impressed his teacher Leopold Auer - “I learned more
from my fellow pupil’s virtues and vices!” - and his close
friends and working colleagues Heifetz and Piatigorsky, and
Ysaÿe and Rachmaninov.
DVD includes arresting performances of the Bach Chaconne
and, with Georges Pludermacher, of the Beethoven Kreutzer
Sonata from Milstein’s legendary last recital in the Berwaldhallen
in Stockholm in 1986. Milstein was 82 at the time and these
astonishing performances are impressive by any standards
never mind by a man of such an age. A day or so before the
concert and recording - lights and microphones had all been
set up so cancellation would have been difficult - Milstein’s
first finger started to pain him. Incredibly he was able
to work out different fingerings to enable him to play without
any detriment to his performance. This was a mark of real
artistic genius and dedication but, as we learn, this was
typical of Milstein: regularly re-examining works to see
how he could keep improving his playing and maintain a fresh
one or two minor carps. It would have been helpful to have
had identifying captions for the short excerpts from show
pieces, performed by Milstein, interspersed among the interviews,
such as: Paganini’s Caprices Nos. 5 and 13, Mussorgsky’s Hopak and
Milstein’s own arrangement of Liszt’s Consolation No.
the excerpts and works performed are chamber or instrumental
of course. It would have been wonderful to have seen Milstein
in concert playing, for instance, the Glazounov Violin Concerto
of which Milstein is reckoned to be the premiere exponent.
Milstein played the concerto in front of Glazounov and the
violinist tells, with a twinkle in his eye, how he had surprised
the composer by inventing changes to his Concerto at a rehearsal
with Glazounov himself conducting. Glavounov looked over
his glasses at the young Milstein demanding, “Don’t you like
what I wrote?” Abashed, Milstein instantly modified his playing
accordingly but, after the rehearsal, Glavounov generously
invited him to play it his own way at the forthcoming concert.
you love music you are more complete than without it”
film was Awarded the Diapason d’Or, Paris 1993
Moving and witty memories of a master violinist
with two wonderful performances.
Footnote - The Christopher Nupen Films
British TV, over the past fifty years, has produced many significant documentaries
on composers of classical music. Think, for instance of the BBC Monitor and Omnibus programmes,
and Ken Russell’s acclaimed films on Delius and Elgar.
Christopher Nupen made a remarkable series of insightful and sympathetic films
on classical music: many were transmitted by the BBC but others were broadcast
by United Kingdom commercial television channels (Channel 4 and Granada Television).
Part of these Milstein DVDs is devoted to a collection of clips from other Nupen
productions; films that cover the lives and music of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Schubert,
Paganini, Mussorgsky and Respighi as well as Sibelius. One shows the joy of music-making
by well-known artists in their salad days: Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman,
Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline Du Pré. Another Nupen film is a poignant portrait
of a wheel-chair bound Jacqueline Du Pré as mentor and teacher and charity worker
after her tragic encounter with multiple sclerosis. One film covers the career
of Andrès Segovia, more than any other man responsible for the revival of interest
in the guitar as a ‘classical’ instrument. Another tells of the incredible child
prodigy that was the pianist Evgeny Kissin and, conversely, this present documentary
that features the extraordinary virtuosity of Nathan Milstein afire even at the
age of 82!
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