Nathan Milstein was an aristocrat of the violin. He had perfect
intonation, a full, rich tone, and his powers of interpretation
and insight into the music he was playing was second to none.
He also had the ability, as did Beecham, to imbue a lesser work
with such authority that you were convinced you were listening
to a masterpiece. I am thinking of the lovely Violin Concerto
in A minor, by Karl Goldmark, which Milstein plays with as
much love as he gives to the two works here under discussion.
The Goldmark recording, by the way, is indispensable (Testament
SBT1047). Milstein never put virtuosity above musicianship, and
the Goldmark recording alongside the two performances here show
his superb technical and musical abilities. In the booklet there
is the statement Perfectly simple, simply perfect and that
just about sums up his art: technique at the service of the composer.
in Odessa, Milstein made his debut in his home
town, conducted by Glazunov, in 1915 before he studied with
Leopold Auer. In 1921 he met Vladimir Horowitz, went on tour
with him throughout Russia in 1925 and made his American debut
in 1929, with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He
settled in New York and toured the world into his mid-80s,
only retiring after suffering a broken
hand. He died in London
ten days before his 89th birthday. Interestingly,
his 1948 recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with the New
York Philharmonic, conducted by Bruno Walter, was the first
item in Columbia’s (CBS, now Sony) catalogue of new long playing,
twelve-inch 33 1/3 rpm, vinyl records (Columbia ML 4001).
a lovely coupling this is. Two concertos, written four years
apart, one light and frothy, one deadly serious (in the main),
both allowing the soloist to display both pyrotechnics as
well as lyrical playing.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Milstein is superb. He throws himself
into the southern warmth of the Symphonie espagnole,
with great aplomb. He is, by turns playful (the finale is
simply delicious, his tone on the g string is rich and fruity,
and there’s a lovely use of portamento), winsome and delicate
(the 3rd movement, Andante). Milstein plays
the four movement version, believing that Lalo only intended
the Intermezzo to be included for the première.
What a shame he was of this opinion for the performance is
so fine that one longs for more of it.
The Brahms Concerto is full of fire and passion. Milstein’s first entry
is breathtaking, the octaves hair-raising, the passagework
exhilarating. Then comes the lyricism, first the opening theme,
played with such control and sweetness of tone, followed by
the glorious second subject, which Milstein floats with tender
loving care. There’s also probably the most subtle use of
rubato I’ve ever heard. The oboist in the slow movement phrases
the great tune well - but he’s no Leon Goossens, perhaps the
finest oboist to play this theme - and complements Milstein’s
playing of the melody. And what sweet delight Milstein makes
of this slow movement, with a true singing tone, and gentle
inflection. The finale is wild and full of ‘gypsyness’, but
he is never afraid to stand back when in an accompanying role.
All in all this is superb stuff. It is a privilege to hear such great
playing, and such wonderful unaffected performances. The recorded
sound is a little bit boxy but the ear adjusts quickly. Add
to this that the orchestra, in both recordings, is slightly
backwardly placed - the Brahms is better than the Lalo in
this respect. The music-making is without doubt very enjoyable.
The production is excellent. The CD is contained within a
cover which opens out and the booklet is attached to the cover.
There are good, if not many, notes and some lovely photographs,
not all of them of Milstein playing, which is a boon.
To hear this great violinist live in concert is an honour, especially
for those of us who never had the pleasure of hearing him
in the flesh. A must for all interested in performance and
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf