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Nathan Milstein (violin)
The U.S. Armed Forces Studio Recordings
rec. 1944-50
BIDDULPH 85015-2 [77]

Biddulph explores some less well explored areas of Nathan Milstein’s discography in this release. Many of the recordings derive from AFRS discs (Armed Forces Radio Service) released under the auspices of the U.S. War Department, or from V Discs, and were recorded in 1944.

The first is a Milstein favourite, Vivaldi’s Sonata Op.2 No.2 in A major, which he had recorded commercially with Leopold Mittman back in April 1936 (it was released on Biddulph LAB055). Those few years saw a rather more streamlined approach, the AFRS performance having shed one or two rather gauche expressive devices and replaced them with a gleaming, crisply focused and cantilena-rich rendition. Milstein and the Brahms Concerto had a long and complex relationship on disc, but he had a generally ambivalent attitude to the composer, as Tully Potter’s notes relate, and never recorded the Second Sonata, which makes the appearance of it here all the more intriguing. I have to agree with Potter about the short-breathed, hesitant nature of Milstein’s phrasing in the first movement and whilst he generates a greater level of intensity later in the central movement it’s always within very precisely calibrated limits.

The remainder of the AFRS and V Disc recordings is encore-type material. There are two versions of Massenet’s Mediation, one with Valentin Pavlovsky – who sounds a more engaged Brahmsian than Milstein and proves a redoubtable accompanist in the smaller pieces too – and the other with Artur Balsam. Milstein’s playing evinces typically cultured crystalline purity. He didn’t otherwise record Ravel’s Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera or Wieniawski’s Étude-caprice, Op. 18 No. 4 in A minor, the former full of ardour, and the latter dispatched with effortless fluency. The three V Discs prove to be somewhat less well recorded than their AFRS companions but all three are admirably played. There are two Voice of America ‘Great Artists’ recordings – the Gluck-Kreisler Mélodie and Suk’s Burleska – both with pianist Joseph Kahn, and the latter is deliciously sparkling. The final VOA disc is the Rondo finale of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with the NBC Symphony Orchestra directed by Arthur Fiedler which can supplement his commercial legacy – he’d recorded the whole thing, less the Intermezzo, with Ormandy a few years earlier and was to do so again with Golschmann in Saint Louis in the mid-50s: again, sans the Intermezzo, which he never played.

The final sequence comes from a 10” RCA Victor album of sweetmeats accompanied by the RCA Victor Orchestra and Fiedler. The album was called ‘Violin Favorites’ and all six orchestrations are in the very competent hands of Leroy Anderson. Three are unique to Milstein’s discography – the Mendelssohn, Schubert and Stephen Foster titles – but they’re all played with scrupulous sensitivity and burnished tonal resources. The Foster may be more associated with Heifetz, but Milstein plays it with typically elevated dignity.

The Armed Forces and V Disc recordings make for a logical pairing and the RCA album fits perfectly alongside them. The notes and remastering are all one could hope for, and Milstein collectors will be made very happy by this select disc.

Jonathan Woolf
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Violin Sonata, Op. 2 No. 2 in A major, RV 31 arr Ferdinand David
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Meditation from Thaïs arr Marsick
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera
Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)
Étude-caprice, Op. 18 No. 4 in A minor
Scherzo-Tarantelle in G minor, Op. 16
Valentin Pavlovsky (piano)
rec. 1944, AFRS ‘Basic Music Library’
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Abendlied (No. 12 from Klavierstücke für kleine und große Kinder, Op. 85)
Jules Massenet
Meditation from Thaïs arr Marsick
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Flight of the Bumble Bee
Artur Balsam (piano)
rec. May 1944 on V Disc
Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice: Mélodie arr Fritz Kreisler
Josef Suk (1874-1935)
Four Pieces, Op. 17 for violin and piano: IV. Burleska
Joseph Kahn (piano)
rec. 26 June 1949 for Voice of America ‘Great Artists’ series
Edouard Lalo (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21: V. Rondo
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arthur Fiedler
rec. 26 June 1949
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Ave Maria, D839 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Ständchen 'Leise flehen meine Lieder', D957 No. 4 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, Op. 34 No. 2 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1 arr orch Leroy Anderson
Ede Poldini (1869-1957)
Poupée valsante arr Fritz Kreisler arr orch Leroy Anderson
Stephen Foster (1826–1864)
Old folks at home arr orch Leroy Anderson
RCA Victor Orchestra/Arthur Fiedler
rec. 17-19 January 1950

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