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alternatively Crotchet


Edouard LALO (1823–1892)
Symphonie espagnole (1874) [25:06]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
Violin Concerto in D, op.77 (1878) [37:05]

Nathan Milstein (violin)
Orchestre Nationale de Paris/André Cluytens (Lalo); NDR-Sinfonieorchester/Paul Kletzki
rec. Septembre Musical, Montreux, 11 September 1955 (Lalo); 6 September 1960 (Brahms) ADD
CLAVES 502708 [62:22] 
Experience Classicsonline

Nathan Milstein was an aristocrat of the violin. He had perfect intonation, a full, rich tone, and his powers of interpretation and insight into the music he was playing was second to none. He also had the ability, as did Beecham, to imbue a lesser work with such authority that you were convinced you were listening to a masterpiece. I am thinking of the lovely Violin Concerto in A minor, by Karl Goldmark, which Milstein plays with as much love as he gives to the two works here under discussion. The Goldmark recording, by the way, is indispensable (Testament SBT1047). Milstein never put virtuosity above musicianship, and the Goldmark recording alongside the two performances here show his superb technical and musical abilities. In the booklet there is the statement Perfectly simple, simply perfect and that just about sums up his art: technique at the service of the composer.

Born in Odessa, Milstein made his debut in his home town, conducted by Glazunov, in 1915 before he studied with Leopold Auer. In 1921 he met Vladimir Horowitz, went on tour with him throughout Russia in 1925 and made his American debut in 1929, with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He settled in New York and toured the world into his mid-80s, only retiring after suffering a broken hand. He died in London ten days before his 89th birthday. Interestingly, his 1948 recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bruno Walter, was the first item in Columbia’s (CBS, now Sony) catalogue of new long playing, twelve-inch 33 1/3 rpm, vinyl records (Columbia ML 4001).

What a lovely coupling this is. Two concertos, written four years apart, one light and frothy, one deadly serious (in the main), both allowing the soloist to display both pyrotechnics as well as lyrical playing. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, Milstein is superb. He throws himself into the southern warmth of the Symphonie espagnole, with great aplomb. He is, by turns playful (the finale is simply delicious, his tone on the g string is rich and fruity, and there’s a lovely use of portamento), winsome and delicate (the 3rd movement, Andante). Milstein plays the four movement version, believing that Lalo only intended the Intermezzo to be included for the première. What a shame he was of this opinion for the performance is so fine that one longs for more of it.

The Brahms Concerto is full of fire and passion. Milstein’s first entry is breathtaking, the octaves hair-raising, the passagework exhilarating. Then comes the lyricism, first the opening theme, played with such control and sweetness of tone, followed by the glorious second subject, which Milstein floats with tender loving care. There’s also probably the most subtle use of rubato I’ve ever heard. The oboist in the slow movement phrases the great tune well - but he’s no Leon Goossens, perhaps the finest oboist to play this theme - and complements Milstein’s playing of the melody. And what sweet delight Milstein makes of this slow movement, with a true singing tone, and gentle inflection. The finale is wild and full of ‘gypsyness’, but he is never afraid to stand back when in an accompanying role. 

All in all this is superb stuff. It is a privilege to hear such great playing, and such wonderful unaffected performances. The recorded sound is a little bit boxy but the ear adjusts quickly. Add to this that the orchestra, in both recordings, is slightly backwardly placed - the Brahms is better than the Lalo in this respect. The music-making is without doubt very enjoyable. The production is excellent. The CD is contained within a cover which opens out and the booklet is attached to the cover. There are good, if not many, notes and some lovely photographs, not all of them of Milstein playing, which is a boon. 

To hear this great violinist live in concert is an honour, especially for those of us who never had the pleasure of hearing him in the flesh. A must for all interested in performance and great fiddling.

Bob Briggs

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf



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