Nathan Milstein Rarities
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865–1936)
Violin Concerto in A minor op. 82 (1904) [18:48]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor op. 53 (1879/1880) [29:11]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Violin Concerto in D op. 35 (1878) [30:00]
Nathan Milstein (violin)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/William Steinberg (Glazunov and Dvorák);
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Frederick Stock (Tchaikovsky)
rec. Syria Mosque, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 16-17 April 1957 (Glazunov and Dvorák), 6 March 1940 (Tchaikovsky)

Re–issues of Capitol P8382 (Glazunov and Dvorák) and Columbia RL 3023 (Tchaikovsky)
DYNAMIC IDIS 6589 [78:02]

Nathan Milstein was an aristocrat of the violin and he had that magical ability, as did Beecham, to make music which was not of the highest order seem to be of paramount importance in the musical scheme of things. Think of his recording of Karl Goldmark’s A minor Concerto, a gem of a piece and a brilliant polished diamond in Milstein’s hands (Testament SBT 1047). That’s one not to be missed.

Glazunov’s Concerto is another of those gems which in Milstein’s hands is elevated to the upper echelons of the violin concerto medium. This is a work which demands a violinist who can deliver a pure, lyrical line and take his time over the music, the first section is slow and very richly melodic – and what a delight it is! – this leads straight into a cadenza which, cleverly, bridges the gap and changes the tempo from slow to fast. The final section is sparkling and full of Russian fireworks. It’s a brilliant piece and it’s heard far too seldom in our concert halls. This is an excellent interpretation, with Milstein in full command and with marvellous support from Steinberg and the Pittsburghers. This performance joins my favourite recordings – by Ida Haendel and David Oistrakh – as being absolutely essential listening.

It cannot be said that Dvorák’s Violin Concerto is one of his best works, for it has flaws in construction and the melodic material isn’t of his best. To make it work in performance is entirely the responsibility of the soloist and his ability to weave magic over the piece and get under the skin of its inspiration. As I have already written, Milstein had this ability and here we have as fine a performance as we could hope for, the music emerging as fresh and bright and, miraculously, without any feeling of the work being wanting in any department. I am almost convinced that here is a major Violin Concerto! Listened to simply as a piece of interpretive insight this is the best performance of this work I have ever heard. As with the Glazunov, this is fabulous fiddling and Steinberg and his players provide strong and forthright support.

The sound on these Capitol recordings is, as one would expect, of demonstration quality and these transfers have captured the presence and immediacy perfectly. The Tchaikovsky recording is of a much earlier vintage and as such the ear needs to adjust to the slightly restricted and boxy sound. It’s a good transfer but it is fierce and hard driven, and the volume needs to be reduced so as to make a mellower sound, otherwise the ear will tire very quickly.

Milstein recorded the Tchaikovsky Concerto four times and this is the first of them. As a piece of playing it’s second to none with bravura jumping out of nearly every bar. It always amazes me that such a complete performance could be made when you had to stop every four or five minutes, and apart from the obvious slight speeding up or slowing down when a side ends there is an intensity to this performance which one usually only encounters in the concert hall. The transfer has been well done but there is an oddity at 6:38 in the finale where it sounds as if either a section of the music has been cut out, or the editing together of two 78 sides has not been achieved correctly. It’s very disturbing. That aside, this is a good transfer.

All three recordings are available elsewhere and which one you buy will depend entirely on which coupling you want. This is as good as any, the slight defect in the Tchaikovsky notwithstanding, and if you simply wanted a single example of Milstein’s work then you’ll be very happy with this for it is an exciting issue. Be warned: there are no notes whatsoever.

Bob Briggs

An exciting issue… see Full Review