Notes and Editorial Reviews
Selection also includes Nathan Milsten in conversation with John Amis, interviewed November 7, 1991.
BBC has assembled what could be taken as a typical Milstein program from a number of broadcasts years apart. Milstein considered Beethoven’s the greatest of the concertos written for the violin (though, in the interview, he observes that Beethoven didn’t write violinistically, but rather pianistically, in technical passages); he played the Bach, Paganini, and Nová?ek pieces as encores or on programs.
Having been present, Tully Potter considers Milstein’s performance of the Beethoven Concerto with Sir Adrian Boult to have been one of the most memorable of that work. Milstein, already in his early sixties, had, of course, lost nothing of the brilliant technique that would hold up with little deterioration into his early eighties. BBC’s engineers miked him closely; but the recorded sound lacks some of the clarity that could have brought his aristocratic tone into better focus—and noticeable, even distracting, tape hiss pervades the performance. Still, the individuality of his sound remains unmistakable; and engineering far less advantageous than this could hardly diminish the white-hot intensity he achieves in the first movement. In the Larghetto, his cantilena soars above the orchestra as an eagle in flight, and the close miking reveals every detail in his tone production, even if the focus seems grainy. Milstein’s classic purity, which sometimes provides almost gustatory pleasure, here fuses with an ardor that raises even his noble expression to a higher level of communication.
No similar amount of background hiss mars Milstein’s performance of the “encores.” Bach’s Preludio from 1963, about midway between the first set of sonatas and partitas from EMI (CDM 7243 5 66869 2 2,and CDM 7243 5 66870 2 8,) from 1954 and 1956, respectively and the second, from Deutsche Grammophon (289 457 701-2), from 1975, nevertheless bears strong traces of Milstein’s individuality. While many violinists used to struggle to play Paganini’s caprices with clean articulation and passable intonation, Milstein, transcending their technical demands, makes them the pithy musical statements they seem to have been intended to be. Caprice No. 5 appeared frequently on his programs, and this performance sounds as assured and dazzling as the others. Milstein, as here, also made the dotted rhythms of Caprice No. 11’s middle section crackle with determination. Those who treasure Milstein’s performances of Falla’s dances from his old Vignettes LP, now available, with other encores, on EMI CDM 7243 5 66871 2 7, will find the same haunting suggestiveness in the “Asturiana” and the same headlong energy in the “Jota” in this performance—with a bit of background noise. Nová?ek’s Perpetuum mobile, also featured on that old LP, makes an almost identical impression here.
The interview, shot through with interesting commentary by John Amis, interlaces snippets from recorded performances (in order, Liszt’s Consolation; Beethoven’s Concerto with Leinsdorf and the Philharmonia; Glazunov’s Concerto with Steinberg and Pittsburgh; and Bach’s Chaconne) and should be an invaluable addition to any aficionado’s collection of Milsteiniana. But the whole program fits well within that category. Every opportunity to observe Milstein’s multifaceted art from another perspective must always reveal breathtaking vistas. This one certainly does. Strongly recommended.
Robert Maxham, FANFARE