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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major* (1806) [41:14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 8 in D minor (1953-5) [27:49]
Nathan Milstein* (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 18 October 1972
EMI CLASSICS DVB38845690 [69:05]

This DVD comes at a very opportune time with the release, on DVD, of Christopher Nupen’s absorbing film on the genius of Nathan Milstein. Whereas Nupen concentrates on Milstein in chamber and instrumental pieces, including the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata, this film broadens out the portrait to show the ‘violinists’ violinist’ in concert performance playing a work he clearly loved. As Milstein himself commented: “The Beethoven Violin Concerto is a miracle, something that seems to have come out of thin air, like some sort of divine message. You can discuss the revelations of this concerto endlessly.”
His sweet-toned performance is elegantly refined and warmly romantic, restrained but eschewing indulgence with nuances and phrasing, pleasing and enlightening. His playing is technically impeccable and he plays his own intricate and beautiful cadenzas. Sir Adrian Boult offers sterling accompaniment sensitive and robust in the more extrovert passages. Audiences might note his spare, almost non-existent body movements, quite unlike the more showy prowlings of some other maestros. But, as the film shows his direction was all in his eyes and in his delicate, articulate finger directions - and the telling use of that long baton – he would insist that his players watched its tip with full concentration.
Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) and Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) conducted the works of Elgar and Vaughan Williams during the composers’ lifetimes. Today, with so many new recordings available of their works, it might easily be forgotten that both composers held the two conductors in high regard. Their recordings must therefore be regarded as authoritative.
Ralph Vaughan Williams was 84, when, in 1956, his relatively short but colourful 8th Symphony was premiered by its dedicatee, Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra. In a way, this symphony might be likened to Beethoven’s eighth symphony - Beethoven’s Little Symphony. Both are full of energy and rumbustious high spirits. Vaughan Williams’s score is remarkable for its youthful outlook. He could still keep on surprising audiences even in his eighties! The orchestration is supremely imaginative; in fact this work might be regarded as RVW’s Concerto for Orchestra - all players have virtuoso parts. Its opening mood set by trumpet and celesta is extraordinary, the second movement is, one might suppose, an affectionate parody of English brass band music, the third movement for strings returns us to Thomas Tallis country and the Finale is a tour de force for the percussion section.
Sir Adrian’s bravura reading emphasises the drollery of the scherzo, the warmth and tenderness of the Cavatina - to be admired is the sheer beauty of tone of the LPO strings in this movement - and the joyousness of the Toccata with its celebratory bells and gongs.
This filmed performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto joins three other well regarded recordings on DVD by Perlman (EMI 5 44544-9), Grumiaux (EMI 490445-9) and Kogan (EMI 492834-9).
Ian Lace


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