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David Nadien (violin): Volume 4 – the celebrated live concerto performances
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane for violin and orchestra (1924) [11:27]
David Nadien (violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/André Kostelanetz, recorded 11 February, 1967
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 82 (1904) [18:22]
David Nadien (violin)
Great Neck Symphony Orchestra/Sylvan Schulman, recorded 1965
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35 (1878) [36:33]
David Nadien (violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein, recorded 8 October, 1966
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Havanaise Op. 83 (1887) [9:03]
David Nadien (violin)
Great Neck Symphony Orchestra/Sylvan Schulman, recorded 1965
Bonus DVD – David Nadien – Life and Music, a film by Mordecai Shehori
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD130 [72:28 + DVD: 68:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

Cembal d’amour deserves the gratitude of all violin lovers for its especial devotion to the art of David Nadien, about whom I’ve written extensively on this site (see links below). This is now the fourth volume in its exploration of his commercial and off-air legacy and long may it continue. This latest entrant though is special. 

It starts with his fervent, fervid Ravel Tzigane. His finger tip vibrato vests this with a dramatic, almost occult drama. And he’s no revisionist when it comes to the work; it’s full-blooded, passionate, and tonally broad with a springy warmth that proves compelling. The NYPO and André Kostelanetz are the willing, urgent partners and the date was February 1967. Nadien was concertmaster of the orchestra; for other concerto outings he sometimes turned to the Great Neck Symphony Orchestra under its well-known conductor Sylvan Schulman.

Firstly there is the 1965 Glazunov performance. Nadien is full of bewitching colour here, his tonal variety and broadly conventional-fast tempi ensuring a performance of tremendous vitality and generosity, as well as digital assurance. In stylistic ethos his playing is roughly aligned with that of Heifetz, though both Heifetz and Milstein tended to adopt pretty much the same tempi for this work. Nadien is febrile, dashing, gives us a superb cadenza, an ebullient finale and much else. It’s interesting perhaps to note that Nadien’s almost exact contemporary, the American violinist Camilla Wicks, recorded this concerto twenty years later in 1985 (now on Simax). Their performances could not be more different – Nadien is hyper romantic and fleet, Wicks withdrawn and slow. The other Great Neck performance is Saint-Saëns’ Havanise, which is full of luscious eloquence and control. 

The other work is the celebrated performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto given with Bernstein in October 1966. Here Nadien doesn’t follow Heifetz tempo-wise – it would be unwise to do so in any case – preferring a standard eighteen minutes for the first movement. His playing is once again full of tonal breadth and colour, his vibrato characteristically fast and full of character. The slow movement is fully communicative and masculine, once again given with the widest tonal resources; it’s not played, as so often today, as a rather chaste chanson. The finale is thrilling. The audience goes wild after the opening and closing movements.

As if this is not enough we have a DVD interview between Nadien and Mordecai Shehori. We can’t always quite hear the full questions that Shehori poses but we can certainly infer them. The camera set up and sound is much improved since the interview conducted with Boris Barere on a similar CD-plus-DVD release from Cembal d’amour. Nadien was born in 1922; his mother was Dutch, his father Russian. His father boxed under the fancy moniker of George Vanderbilt in Massachusetts and was an amateur fiddler – his son says very amateur. Nadien talks about his time at the Mannes School and of his time with Betti of the Flonzaley Quartet to whom he owed so much. Betti had “no method” as such but allowed Nadien to progress in his own way. He learned from Betti how not to be “cheap” musically; he talks warmly of a man he clearly reveres. I didn’t know that Nadien also studied for a year or so with Adolf Busch in New York. Busch was “good not great” in his estimation – though it’s fair to point out that Busch’s best days were well behind him by then and illness consumed him.  Then he spent a year and a half with Galamian until Nadien was eighteen and the army beckoned. A period with Dounis followed. When pressed he says he learned from this still controversial teacher matters of phrasing and “breathing” and remembers Dounis’ instruction that, as a general point, “sometimes you can play too much”. 

Nadien won the Leventritt competition despite the presence on the panel of Isaac Stern, adding that “Stern couldn’t do anything about it.” Stern’s charming hospitality to fellow American violinists is well known. Nadien however is not the kind of man to gossip and tell tales and he doesn’t expand on this or one or two other points where one is itching for him to be indiscreet. Over the feud between Bernstein and Heifetz for instance – the conductor never invited the violinist to share a performance. Nadien knows the details but he’s not telling. The nearest he gets to outright denigration is to note that Ozawa “is not too learned.” Szell wanted Nadien to lead the second violins in Cleveland  - though if you’ve read Robert Gerle’s memoirs you’ll know that Szell was forever on the lookout for someone to match Gingold in the concertmaster’s chair. He later became leader of the NYPO then went back to the kind of commercial work he’d undertaken before – and he’s one of the elite in the tough commercial scene. 

One of the most poignant and yet admirable things is a Menuhin story. After Menuhin had rehearsed with the orchestra he sought out Nadien to ask about the latter’s bow arm. Menuhin’s own was famously problematic. But Nadien refused to divulge his own technique. One might put this down to closely guarded professional secrets but Nadien was actually not interfering; he was discreet and sensitive enough to know that the accumulated years of faulty teaching would not be remedied over a few minutes’ chat. And with a concert coming up the potential for disaster would have been even greater. 

We learn of Nadien’s preferences among conductors – Szell as an accompanist, Toscanini’s precision and genius. Also about Nadien’s pessimism about the current classical music scene, and concert going and giving in particular. He plays a little on his copy of the Lord Wilton Guarneri – he plays some unaccompanied Kreisler. His charming wife is seen briefly, ragging him about the amount of practising he did – she contradicts the claimed number of hours with charm (she says he practised more than he lets on). 

Nadien’s admirers will relish this treasurable set. The manifold musical virtues of the CD are augmented by the interview giving us a portrait of the artist in its fullest sense. 

Jonathan Woolf 

Links to previous reviews of this series:

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3


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