Notes and Editorial Reviews
LIVE IN ASCONA
Nathan Milstein (vn); Arthur Balsam (pn)
URANIA 326, mono (66:57) Live: Ascona 10/11/1957
Adagio in E,
Rondo in C,
Partita No. 2 in d:
Sonata No. 3 in C:
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F,
Caprices: No. 11 in C; No. 5 in a.
Urania’s release of a recital given by Nathan Milstein in Ascona on October 11, 1957, seems typical of the live performances by that violinist that have become available, since his death, in one format or another. This very recital has been released on Ermitage 107, so it may not be new to Milstein aficionados. Milstein played both the Adagio and the Rondo in the same year (and less than a month earlier) with Ernest Lush, and those performances have been made available on the EMI DVD 4901179, which I reviewed in 27:2, as part of a program that also included the two Paganini caprices from the same year and a reading of Bach’s Chaconne from 1968—there’s quite a lot of overlap. The Mozart Adagio and Rondo display Milstein’s suave yet personal nobility, very much in the manner of the video performances, but in better recorded sound (though, of course, without Milstein’s visual impression, incomparably dashing at the time of these two recordings). The Chaconne, after some unsteadiness in the first measure or so of chords, takes its place between the two complete sets recorded in 1954–56. Bridge 90066, 20:2, includes another live performance of the Chaconne—as well as one of Beethoven’s Fifth Sonata, also with Artur Balsam—from a recital at the Library of Congress on March 13, 1953, and one in 1973–74. Milstein is even more magisterial than usual in this gigantic set of variations, which showcases to equal advantage the easy virtuosity of his earlier years and the insight of his later ones, both of which qualities combine in this live performance. While he never becomes metronomic, the work’s structural pillars hold in check Milstein’s strong personal views, although at times his accentuations sound almost as idiosyncratic as illustrative of Bach’s implied counterpoint.
Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata appeared to be one of Milstein’s favorites—he recorded it in the studio at least four times (1947, which has, I believe, remained unissued; 1950, 1957, also, I believe, never issued; and 1958); and, of course, the two live recordings with Balsam have been brought out, as mentioned above, here and on Ermitage and by Bridge. Milstein played the cocky themes of the Sonata’s finale with special panache and brought his own personal élan to the Scherzo.
In his autobiography,
From Russia to the West
, Milstein identified Bach and Paganini as two great composers for the violin, and his recitals often included Paganini caprices, which he played with incomparable aplomb. In the 11th, for example, he makes the isolated high notes spit in defiance of the difficulty of reaching them. In the course of a coaching session excerpted in Argos 6 (31:1), Milstein cautions a student not to take Paganini so quickly, suggesting that Paganini himself certainly didn’t play in that way. He follows his own advice, and the 11th Caprice gains in authority and personality from the slower tempo (although the Fifth is dazzling).
Milstein recorded Stravinsky’s
, and Paradies’s Sicilienne (Stravinsky and Paradies in Samuel Dushkin’s arrangements) in the studio as well as playing them live in this recorded recital. In Stravinsky’s piece, it almost seems as though breathing is audible. Milstein’s individuality emerges even through the continuous passagework of the
, but even more clearly in Paradies’s short work. The finale of Bach’s solo Sonata in C Major served Milstein as a favorite encore (he played it in a recital I heard in the 1990s), and he invested it with concerto-like brilliance, although in this performance he seems to lose, if only momentarily, the rhythmic pulse of the continuous 16th notes.
The recorded sound’s well balanced and lifelike for its era (editors have included applause after many of the program’s numbers), and Milstein’s at the top of his form. Even those who have collected this repertoire in other performances by Milstein can’t afford to pass this one up. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Sicilienne in E flat major by Maria Theresia Paradis
Nathan Milstein (Violin),
Artur Balsam (Piano)
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