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Nathan Milstein Collection - Volume 1
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 – 1908) Flight of the Bumblebee [1:16]; Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912) Meditation from Thaïs (arr: Marsick) (Stanton cartridge) [3:45]; Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835 – 1880) Scherzo-Tarantelle Op. 16 [3:39]; Caprice in A minor Op. 18 No. 4 [1:28]; Antonio VIVALDI (1678 – 1741) Violin Sonata in A major, RV 31 (arr: Respighi) [5:54]; Max BRUCH (1838 – 1920) Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 [24:01]; Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897) Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A major, Op. 100 [18:29]; Nicolo PAGANINI (1782 – 1840) Caprice Op. 1 No. 5 for solo violin [2:14]; Caprice Op. 1 No. 17 for solo violin [3:28]; Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856) Abendlied [2:35]; Jules MASSENET Meditation from Thaïs (arr: Masick) (GE cartridge) [3:45]
Nathan Milstein (violin)
Valentin Pavlovsky (piano) (Wieniawski, Brahms), Artur Balsam (piano) (Rimsky-Korsakov, Massenet, Schumann), New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Artur Rodzinski
Recorded September 28, 1933 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Paganini), November 2, 1943 (Brahms), May 1944 (Rimsky-Korsakov, Massenet, Schumann), August 14, 1944 (Wieniawski), December 31, 1944 (Bruch) and c. 1943 (Vivaldi)
DOREMI DHR-7706 [74:04]
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Nathan Milstein was born in Odessa in 1904. There he studied with Pyotr Stoliarsky but went on to become a pupil of Ysaye in Belgium and of Auer in St Petersburg, great teachers indeed. He toured Russia in 1923 with a pianist of his own age, Vladimir Horowitz. Two years afterwards the two young men were allowed to go outside Russia, or the Soviet Union as it then was. He later settled in the US and had an unusually long and prominent career. I heard him in 1983 at my first visit to the then recently inaugurated Barbican Hall, where, at the age of 79, he gave an impressive rendition of Brahms’ violin concerto with the Hallé Orchestra and James Loughran. He certainly belongs to a select number of really outstanding violinists during the 20th century: Heifetz, Oistrakh, Menuhin and a few more. On this disc, the first in what is supposed to be a series, we meet him mid-career. Apart from the two Paganini caprices he was around forty – and a further forty years were to pass before I heard him. In some camps he is regarded as a technically brilliant but emotionally cold artist; most of these, mainly live, recordings, contradict this opinion. Recorded in the US for the Armed Forces Radio Service or for the War Department’s V-discs, they give a clear impression of the wide scope of his mastery.

We first meet him as the no-holds-barred virtuoso in Flight of the Bumble Bee. This is taken at break-neck tempo, and is of course a piece that requires technical brilliance but little more. Still it is impressive. The Massenet Meditation from Thaïs is something quite different: slow, beautiful, sentimental but in Milstein’s hands not saccharine. It is here presented in two different transfers of the same recording played with different cartridges. The first one, with a Stanton (track 2) is more open with a fuller sound while track 15 is more recessed and initially thinner but in the last resort warmer, more beautiful. The two Wieniawski pieces are brilliantly played with glowing tone. These, as well as several of the other off-air recordings also preserve the voice of the radio announcer, who at least in the case of the Bruch concerto, is Lionel Barrymore.

The concerto suffers from a rather murky recording, something that the sonic restorer Jacob Harnoy, can’t do much about, but from what can be heard, the New York Phil is in good shape, producing a rather beefy sound. Variable the sound quality is, even as far as the soloist is concerned, but Milstein’s brilliant tone and elegant bowing is always in evidence, although there is a lot of surface and very little depth in his reading. The technical excellence is in itself admirable.

Brahms’ A major sonata is quite a different proposition. Although the sound is still primitive, at least when it comes to the reproduction of the piano, it is very listenable. And what is so striking, right from the outset, is the warmth of Milstein’s playing. He colours his tone so expressively and catches the ebb and flow of the music. His pianist, Valentin Pavlovsky, assists him with much sensitive playing – and also the odd wrong note in the first movement. This happens to be my favourite Brahms sonata. Few others have invested the second movement with such emotion and such a glow.

The two unaccompanied Paganini caprices, recorded live in Copenhagen in 1933, also show him in technically fine fettle, No. 5 is hair-raisingly virtuosic and with perfect intonation. The recording, although a bit recessed, is clean enough so as not to mask any important details.

In the Vivaldi sonata, interestingly enough arranged by Respighi, Milstein plays with enormous drive and a rhythmic lilt that creates an almost jazzy atmosphere. In the Schumann piece, Abendlied, placed as a first encore, only followed by the second version of the Massenet Meditation, he spins long thin golden and silvery threads of beautiful sound. On my equipment at least there was some distortion and strictly speaking I believe this issue is more for the specialist collector than for the general listener. Still I am happy to have had the opportunity to hear these recordings and I will certainly return to the Brahms sonata and possibly some of the lollipops as well. There is a biographical note about Milstein by James Creighton, to whose memory the disc is dedicated. Playing time is generous.

Göran Forsling

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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