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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Nathan Milstein and Arthur Balsam
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Adagio in E Major K261
Rondo in C Major K373
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita No 2 in D Minor BWV 1004 – Chaconne
Sonata in C Major BWV 1005 – finale (allegro assai)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No 5 in F Major Op 24 Spring
Niccolo PAGANNI (1782-1840)

Caprice Op 1 No 11 in C Major
Caprice Op 1 No 5 in A Minor
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Chanson russe trans Dushkin
Franz RIES (1846-1932)

Perpetuum mobile Op 34/5
Maria Theresia von PARADIS (1759-1824)

Sicilienne
Nathan Milstein, violin
Arthur Balsam, piano
Recorded Ascona 11 October 1957
AURA 121-2
[66.57]



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Live Milstein recitals continue to be issued, retrieved from the vaults of broadcast companies, private institutions and other sources. Those from the 1950s generally document a musician at the height of his very considerable powers and, in the main, the repertoire replicates his commercial recordings with commensurate gains in tension, albeit also revealing the strains under which he operated in concert. For his recital in Ascona in October 1957 he gave what looks, on paper, a formally rather unbalanced programme, opening with the two Mozart pieces, before plunging straight into the Chaconne followed by the Spring Sonata, some Paganini gymnastics and then serving up a series of violinistic sweetmeats he had recorded on his Vignette album, with pianist Leon Pommers the previous year for EMI (66871) – Stravinsky, Ries, von Paradis – before drawing a veil over proceedings with the finale from Bach’s C Major Sonata, as befits the leading Bach player from amongst the Auer pupils (with the inevitable caveat that Milstein was dismissive of Auer’s training and influence).

Many violinists warm up the fingers with Mozart – much as many Quartets warm up with Haydn – and it’s invariably less than persuasive musically. Milstein though is immediately communicative, embellishing his line with tasteful portamenti, quick and elegant, and adding expressive finger intensifications. He is very romantic in the Adagio with small technical frailties of only passing moment and whilst there are some more finger slips in the following Rondo there is a charming winsomeness to his playing that vanquishes doubt. In the Chaconne he is, if anything, on even more regal form than in the 1953 live Library of Congress recital (Bridge 9066), a recital in which he was again, as here, accompanied by Arthur Balsam. The curve of his playing is slightly sharper and a few occasionally starved notes only serve, ironically, to heighten the concentrated formality of his playing. His basic pulse is quite fleet but textures emerge with clarity and definition – an excellent performance. The Spring Sonata certainly also rivals and I think surpasses that 1953 recital in Washington. The opening allegro is clean limbed, the balance good, with rather better integration of material and less fractious than that earlier performance. The slow movement has noticeably and audibly tightened. At a significantly brisker tempo there is no sense of dragging whilst still ensuring the maintenance and sustaining of an expressivo cantilever. A sense of interiority is effortlessly conveyed and the sonata performance one of stature.

The Op 1 No 11 Caprice is occasionally compromised by some flutter but one can but admire the virtuosity and musicianship of Milstein’s negotiation of Op 1 No 5. His Stravinsky has a felt-like lilt and the Ries is elfin and unaggressive but despatched with scintillating discrimination. Von Paradis’s Sicilienne reminds us of Milstein’s place in the line of descent of great violinists – this is an old world stand-by piece to play – and the Bach ends the recital with unambiguous excellence.

Notes are by Piero Rattalino and are in English and Italian and the former has been rendered, somewhat awkwardly, by translator Eric Siegel. Rattalino’s essay on Milstein is certainly one of the more idiosyncratic things I’ve read in a good while – anyone who claims to hear "neurosis" in Milstein’s playing plainly needs help (perhaps the translation is at fault). Still, I value Milstein’s playing of the Chaconne and the Spring Sonata rather higher than at the earlier Library of Congress concert. It is more fluent and communicative; prime Milstein, in fact, and that means a prime recommendation.

Jonathan Woolf


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