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Mendelssohn, Brahms: Violin Concertos

Mendelssohn / Schweizer Festspielorchester
Release Date: 12/08/2009 
Label:  Archipel   Catalog #: 430   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Felix MendelssohnJohannes Brahms
Performer:  Nathan Milstein
Conductor:  Igor MarkevitchVictor De Sabata
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto 1. BRAHMS Violin Concerto 2 Nathan Milstein (vn); 1 Igor Markevitch, cond; Schweizer Festspielorchester; 2 Victor de Sabata, cond; New York PO ARCHIPEL 0430 (65:09) Live: 1 Lucerne 1953; Read more class="SUPER12">2 New York 3/16/1950

Nathan Milstein recorded the Mendelssohn Concerto four times in the studio: with Walter and the New York Philharmonic on May 16, 1945 (monaural—a V-Disc exists of a performance by the same performers from March 7 of the same year); with Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony on November 28, 1953 (also monaural); with Barzun and the Philharmonia on October 1–3, 1959 (again monaural), and with Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic on March 12–13, 1973. (A performance with pianist Josef Blatt from the Library of Congress from 1946 appears on Bridge 9064, Fanfare 19:6.) The reading with Markevitch took place at about the same time as the one with Steinberg, and its first movement exhibits many of Milstein’s signature devices: the downward shifts in both thematic sections and in passagework, as well as crisply virtuosic off-the-string bowings in the cadenza. The engineers miked Milstein close enough to capture a great deal of detail (as well as some audience noise), but also generally representing his nobly nuanced tone (although it’s marred occasionally by some grain), notably in the main theme’s return at the end of the movement. Characteristic downward shifts also personalize the slow movement’s outer sections (as well as the brief movement introducing the finale); nevertheless, Milstein’s musical personality can’t without injustice to the artist be reduced to a catalog of such devices, employed with mechanical regularity. For example, the finale’s not simply an occasion for lightening passagework; Milstein enlivens it in this performance with personal gestures that transcend the technical. The recording preserves the many waves of thunderous applause.

Milstein’s three studio performances of Brahms’s Concerto (November 29, 1953, with Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra—monaural; June 23 and 24, 1960, with Fistoulari and the Philharmonia Orchestra—also monaural; and December 11–14, 1974, with Jochum and the Vienna Philharmonic) all followed his live reading with Victor de Sabata and the New York Philharmonic on March 16, 1950 (almost exactly 60 years later than this review). The engineers for this live performance give a rasping sort of account of the orchestra, which Sabata led briskly in the opening tutti. Although Milstein’s hardly perfunctory, he doesn’t linger in the lushest passages (such a disdain for indulgence shows itself in particular at his re-entry after the cadenza); on the other hand, he doesn’t emphasize the chunkiness or angularity of so many of the movement’s themes and he certainly doesn’t adopt hair-trigger tempos. Neither does he engage in so many personal devices, though his identity remains unmistakable. The slow movement will perhaps sound warmer (perhaps to Milstein’s glowing tone production in the lower registers) to many listeners, though there’s not a drop of unseemly sentiment. Somewhat in the manner of his reading of the first movement, Milstein takes no prisoners in the finale, which he and the orchestra take again at a headlong tempo that still allows him space for personalization.

Despite recorded sound in Brahms’s Concerto that many may find distracting, the issue can be strongly if not urgently recommended to Milstein’s admirers, though tolerant general listeners should also find much, especially in Milstein’s reading of the Mendelssohn Concerto and perhaps most concentrated in the slow movement of Brahms’s, to cherish. But Milstein’s playing reaches a high level throughout, and a custom-tailored recommendation can’t convey the necessary connotation that it should comfortably fit almost all sizes, even if the material (here, the recorded sound) seems at times stiff.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Nathan Milstein (Violin)
Conductor:  Igor Markevitch
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1844; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1953 
Venue:  Luzern 
Length: 28 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Nathan Milstein (Violin)
Conductor:  Victor De Sabata
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Date of Recording: 03/16/1950 
Venue:  Carnegie Hall, New York 
Length: 36 Minutes 39 Secs. 

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