Praga Digitals have given us quite a few interesting historic recordings as high resolution transfers onto SACD. This one contains early stereo recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, a period when engineers seemed to achieve excellent standards with comparatively simple equipment and often with fewer microphones. The DSD mastering will have given us the best quality these old tapes can offer. Both the concerto recordings were made in London, probably by EMI. The masters used are described on the jewel case as 'original open-reel stereo tapes' from 'Angel Records' which implies they may have been made for USA domestic playback. Whatever the case the results are very satisfying as regards the sound of Milstein's violin and respectable rather than good for the orchestral detail. The climaxes sound a bit strained, an effect unlikely to exist on the studio masters but quite likely on domestic transfers made at 7½ ips in those days. The extra item, the Bach, stems from a 'private' source, is mono and is very clear and clean. The notes on the violinist and the music are useful and interesting but, as often with Praga, somebody failed to edit the English translation.
Milstein was one of the great masters of the violin and ranked along with the likes of Heifetz, Oistrakh and Kreisler at the very top of the class in the mid-20th century. Every recording he made was greeted with interest and often with astonishing enthusiasm. The Brahms is one of four recordings he made of the concerto and is, as expected, a truly great account, with sensitive support from the Philharmonia and Anatole Fistoulari. The sound is not quite good enough for this to be the one performance to own but it is certainly worth the moderate purchase price of the SACD.
The Goldmark concerto deserves more attention than it gets in the concert hall nowadays, though it must be admitted that its first movement is more interesting than the other two. It is instructive to note that both concertos date from the same year, 1878. Goldmark as a fellow romantic is no less a master of compositional craft than Brahms but he does lack the depth of inspiration of his slightly younger contemporary. The advocacy of Milstein is sufficient to demand the listener's attention regardless of any musical shortcomings. I am certain purchasers will revisit Goldmark's concerto more than once and may be tempted to investigate his once popular opera The Queen of Sheba. Adam Fischer's Hungaroton recording is still available. Again, for the concerto, the orchestra is the Philharmonia, conducted this time by Harry Blech, one of the 'old reliables' of the period whose recorded legacy should be treasured more than it is. Listen to the lively rhythms of the orchestra in the first movement; a reminder of Blech's quality.
The Bach Chaconne is not complete but is faded out tastefully at around the half way point. It was apparently made privately, in mono, whilst Milstein was rehearsing for a concert in Salzburg in 1956: considering which it is very good. As for the partial performance, it is most impressive.
Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto