For this new reissue, Milstein has become the “Aristocrat of the Violin,” whatever that means. The are several differences between this set of eight CDs, and EMI’s previous six-disc set called “The Art of Nathan Milstein.” First and foremost, this new release contains his first (mono) Bach Sonatas and Partitas, still one of the reference recordings for this monument of the violin literature. Of course, Milstein’s DG set is another reference. It’s interesting to note, in these days when young violinists play all six works at a single grueling concert, and record them in a day or two of studio work, that Milstein’s recordings were spread out over three years. Think there’s a lesson there, hot shot soloists of today? I offer a taste of theRead more great Chaconne from the D Minor Partita (first sound clip), which Milstein plays in thirteen stunning minutes–almost period-instruments tempos.
None of the other switches and substitutions are as major as this, but some are substantial. To make room for the Bach, two other Baroque items have been omitted (a Vivaldi concerto, Corelli’s “La Follia). Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto has been added, his Second Concerto and Violin Sonata have been deleted. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (with Artur Balsam) and two Romances for Violin and Orchestra have been included, and Milstein’s mono, marginally superior recording of the Violin Concerto (with Steinberg) replaces his stereo remake. Finally, you now also get the Bruch First Concerto, Chausson’s Poème, and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. The disc of encores is identical.
On the whole, this release offers better value, and perhaps a slightly more intelligent choice of works, but of course the ideal would be for EMI simply to gather up everything Milstein did and issue a complete edition. There is nothing here, in terms of violin playing, that doesn’t reach the very highest level. Even the less standard works, such as Milstein’s account of Dvorák’s Violin Concerto (second sound sample) rank with finest versions ever recorded, and while he was active he basically “owned” such works as the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos (which he also recorded for DG, superbly). The mono and stereo sonics are variable, obviously, but always do justice to the artists involved. A major set.