> Nathan Milstein. The 1946 Library of Congress Recital [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Nathan Milstein. The 1946 Library of Congress Recital
Tomaso VITALI (1663-1745)

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Sonata in G Minor BWV 1001
Nathan MILSTEIN (1904-1992)

Paganiniana (Variations)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto in E Minor
Frederyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in C Sharp Minor arr Milstein
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)

Arthur Milstein, violin
Josef Blatt, piano
Recorded at the Coolidge Auditorium of The Library of Congress 7 October 1946
BRIDGE 9064 [67’36]

Two Milstein recitals from The Library of Congress have been issued by Bridge, documents of value and significance. This, the earlier, dates from 1946 and is a programme of the Old School with the Vitali Chaconne and a Milstein speciality, solo Bach, sharing space with a piano accompanied Mendelssohn Concerto and some scintillating morceaux. The later 1953 recital is a standard post-War Sonata programme – Beethoven op 24 and Brahms op 108 along with the Bach Partita in D Minor. In a sense then this brace of recordings documents the changing patina of the violin recital as it moved from the predictable but still relatively elastic traditions of Baroque opener, Romantic Concerto and lighter sweetmeats to the heavyweight three Sonata line-up.

The 1946 recital found Milstein in his early forties and approaching his peak. Though his longevity – almost unique amongst violinists in retaining sovereign technical command into his eighties – has served to elongate and extend his career the forties saw his real emergence into a position of international eminence. Nominally an Auer pupil, he had first studied with Oistrakh’s teacher, Stolyarsky, but Milstein was characteristically contemptuous of his teachers and seems to have been, to a degree, self-taught. A mutual antipathy also bedevilled some of his Concerto engagements in which Milstein could duel unceremoniously with a conductor he despised, a trait he shared with Heifetz. As his colleague and admirer Piatigorsky remarked Milstein’s natural metier was solo Bach and after that a Sonata recital with an alert pianist. In 1946 Milstein was partnered by Joseph Blatt, Viennese born in 1906 and Milstein’s junior by a few years. Composer, conductor, administrator and pianist Blatt is too distantly recorded and has too little to do to prove his musical value; he provides staunch if not especially imaginative or quicksilver support.

The recital begins with the Vitali. There are some scuffs on the discs but the sound here is generally good. Milstein is attentive to dynamics but unusually for this stellar musician small patches of poor intonation intrude. Blatt is lumpy as well and the performance rather limps along, not yet fully warmed up, with the violinist cool, pressing ahead somewhat unflinchingly, and to be frank, sounding only superficially engaged. Low-level rumble/hum afflicts the Bach but if you can listen past that – and it’s quite possible – you will be rewarded with a performance that gains in stature the more it develops. He is a little stiff still in the second movement fugue but the Siciliano has all the expected Milstein virtues and the presto finale is magnificently accomplished. His own outrageous and disgraceful Paganiniana is enormously entertaining and boldly delineated with some slashing attacks whereas his lyric persuasiveness is exemplified by another of his arrangements, this time the Chopin C Sharp Minor. The Wieniawski demonstrates a cast iron technique and an invincible musicality. The piano-accompanied Mendelssohn Concerto sits at the heart of the recital. As I said this is an example of days when the Concerto literature was routinely presented in this way by soloists to audiences, many of whom would never otherwise have heard them; indeed by soloists who may never otherwise have found many opportunities to play them with an orchestra. In the opening movement we can appreciate Milstein’s subtle bowing and rubato, his limited but expressive portamanti – though I think it would have been better if Bridge had edited out the audience applause, vigorous and enthusiastic, after the movement’s end. The slow movement sounds rather unrelieved however, finger intensity from the violinist aside, and whilst it is again more than instructive to hear the nature and complexity of his vibrato usage and how he transmits lyric intensity through dynamic shadings, there is still rather too much insistence not helped by Blatt’s rather leaden contribution. The finale goes reasonably well but it’s not a performance commensurate with the best of Milstein’s admittedly outstanding Mendelssohn.

Whilst uneven interpretatively and in inconsistent sound – hums, rumbles, scuffs, bumps, nothing majorly problematic though – these are performances that both expand and reflect upon Milstein’s existing commercial discography. At their best they show us how, of all the Auer or putative Auer pupils, he was the leading Bach player and quite probably the most complete and impressive chamber player. As such this disc, and its companion, Bridge 9066, is full of enlightenment and interest.

Jonathan Woolf

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