Nathan Milstein In Portrait: Some
Memories of a Quiet Magician Master of Invention - Part 1 [54:01] Master of Invention - Part 2 [59:43]
(includes concert performance of Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata
and Bach Chaconne)
(violin) Georges Pludermacher (piano)
rec. Stockholm, 17 July 1986
Cameraman: David Findlay
Editor: Peter Heelas
Writer and Director: Christopher Nupen.
NTSC. All regions. 2007 ALLEGRO FILMS A06CND [113:44]
documentary ends at its beginning, or begins at its end.
Its culmination is a fine film of Nathan Milstein’s last
concert, recorded in Stockholm in 1986. No-one knew it was
to be his last concert, even though he was 82 years old at
the time. It very nearly didn’t happen at all, because on
the morning it was to be held, Milstein woke with a severe
pain in the first finger of his left hand. Soon the injury
to force his retirement after a professional career that
had spanned 73 years. Despite his pain, Milstein doesn’t
compromise on quality because he knows how important this
film will be for posterity. His fluency and inventive fingerings
gave him the skill to adapt his fingerings and still play
with astonishing virtuosity. Both the Kreutzer and
the Chaconne are difficult works, yet Milstein’s interpretation
is vivacious and fluid, as if freshly thought through. Even
though he’d been playing them all his life, he was, in effect
playing them anew - a spontaneous new approach.
film is a kind of master-class, not merely in demonstrating
technical skill, but because it goes further, exploring what
made Milstein the man and musician he was. Milstein knew
Auer, Glazunov, Piatigorsky, Rachmaninov and Heifetz. Russian
music circles in those days were close and intimate. Horowitz
invited him for tea one day at his home near what is now
Chernobyl. Milstein stayed three years and they became lifelong
friends. What’s fascinating is that his anecdotes are first
person. His account of playing for a crowd of Soviet workers
brims with sharp observation. Later there’s a priceless shot
in which Milstein receives an award with Sammy Davis Jnr.
Throughout the film are excerpts from music Milstein played
or loved. There’s even a list so you can play them in full
on your own.
more interesting are pithy insights he shares from decades
of playing. For example, “Anyone who doesn’t know what invention
is should stop playing”. The section where he has dinner
with Pinchas Zuckerman was spontaneous, filmed without a
script or rehearsals. Much had to be cut from the final film
for space reasons – somewhere in the archive must lie further
treasures. This unassuming “violinist’s violinist” as Zuckerman
calls Milstein, exudes an air of “intense calm … and self-truth” because
what he fundamentally believes in is the intrinsic value
of music. As Zuckerman puts it, music can leave us “exhausted,
exhilarated, uplifted and humble”.
film, this set may be more conventional than the truly exceptional
Sibelius film but that’s no demerit. The Sibelius film was
a work of art in its own right, superbly poetic and profound.
This is more direct. It’s interesting not just because it
preserves Milstein’s technique for posterity, but because
it also shows what it means to be a true musician.
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