"I treasure the earliest memories of my father's golden Guarneri-pattern violin, made by my luthier great-grandfather, as it lay smothered in the green velvet of his case. I remember with equal clarity and warmth my first experience of Milstein almost a decade later. Although he was the last of the great violinists whose style I came to know, two of his recordings, the Goldmark Concerto (Capitol PAO 8414) and the Vignettes (Capitol P 8396), along with Paul Stoeving's rhapsodic book on the violin, set the compass of my life. In the booklet accompanying Testament's rerelease of the Goldmark Concerto (SBT 1047), Hugh Bean notes that Milstein was the Goldmark Concerto. I'm the Vignettes. Not that I ever could, or even now can, play thoseRead more short pieces with anything like Milstein's consummate elegance. For years, though, I begged my teacher to let me work on one after another: They became the test tubes in which I tried to replicate Milstein's alchemistic transmutations. What he himself made from them was, and for me still is, the purest gold.
Frank Sinatra, the story goes, mined Heifetz's recordings for ideas about phrasing. But Sinatra and Heifetz had little in common (although Heifetz did have blue eyes). Only in the months since the Chairman's death have I discovered the resemblance between Sinatra's art and Milstein's. Milstein's tone had its detractors, as did Sinatra's voice. But who could fault the style, impeccably suave and aristocratic? They shared a way of arriving on a high or low note with a sudden change of color and shift of the harmonic spectrum that had the same imperious effect as a gyroscope twisting your hand. One such note, and you recognized Milstein—or Sinatra. But both, at other times, could sound almost anonymous. Listen to Milstein play Tchaikovsky's Mélodie and to Sinatra sing Young at Heart, and see if the similarity doesn't strike you.
Milstein recorded many of these pieces more than once; and although his stylings remained remarkably consistent (unlike his readings of the masterworks, which continuously evolved throughout his lifetime), these recordings, made in 1956 and 1957, when Milstein was in his early fifties, are the locus classicus for each. And the digital remastering of the original tapes has opened up some individual pieces, like Bach's Air, that originally seemed closed in on themselves. Some of these works appeared in The Art of Nathan Milstein, EMI Classics 6-ZDMF 64830 (where Milstein's tone occasionally sounded too strident for the well-oiled machinery that produced it—a problem the new issue seems to have addressed), but many of the best of them, like Wienawski's Polonaise, Sarasate's Romanza andaluza, Tchaikovsky's Mélodie, Schumann's Träumerei, and Debussy's Maid with the Flaxen Hair, are finally available for the first time in CD format. The disc, with the same cover as the old Vignettes LP, also includes pieces from Milstein Miniatures (Capitol P 8339). There's no release of any kind I've more eagerly awaited, and none that I could recommend more highly.
When all's said and done,...it would come as no surprise to me if Milstein were to be recognized as the premiere violinist of the 20th century. If anything can hasten that judgment, these recordings can. They give palpable meaning to Paul Stoeving's question about the violin, whether it was not as if, for once, man had somehow grasped the ideal hidden in the heart of God."
Nocturne for Piano in C sharp minor, B 49by Frédéric Chopin Performer:
Leon Pommers (Piano),
Nathan Milstein (Violin)
Period: Romantic Written: 1830 Notes: Arranged: Nathan Milstein The attribution of this composition to Chopin is doubtful.
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