Notes and Editorial Reviews
NATHAN MILSTEIN, VOL. 2
Nathan Milstein (vn); Jean Martinon
, cond; O Natl de l’ORTF; Carl Schuricht
, cond; R Svizzera Italiana O
DOREMI 7752, analog (80:40) Live: Paris 6/4/1969;
Violin Concerto No. 5.
Solo Violin Partita No. 2:
Caprices: No. 11 in C; No. 5 in a
Just about 14 years have passed since I reviewed DOREMI’s first volume devoted to live performances by Nathan Milstein (DOREMI DHR-7706,
22:6), which included a selection of short pieces as well as Respighi’s reworking of Vivaldi’s Sonata in A Major, RV 31, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, and Brahms’s Second Violin Sonata. In a way, the second volume seems more like a very characteristic concert of Milstein chestnuts, although the recording actually (and generously) combines three different broadcasts, spanning the 12 years from 1957 to 1969.
Milstein’s reading of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, broadcast in 1969 when Milstein had reached his mid-60s, betrays only very occasional minor technical failings, such as any violinist, including even Jascha Heifetz, might have experienced (but particularly noticeable here because of the engineers’ very close focus on their soloist). In fact, the performance itself delivers Milstein’s almost contradictory though signature combination of aristocratic subtlety and noble simplicity, in characteristic razor-sharp technique (to hear the first movement’s sonorous passagework, not only accompanied but solo, in the cadenza, close-up like this represents a privilege that few members of the actual audience could have enjoyed). But even more, the force of his personality strikes in this movement almost with the force of a battering ram. And despite the purity of style that James Creighton attributes to Milstein in the notes, the violinist endows the slow movement, simple though it may be in itself, with an unwonted melancholy sensibility. Some noise obtrudes itself during the transition to the Finale; but, in general, the recorded sound remains relatively clean and transmits even the resonance of the ringing double-stopped pizzicatos.
The clock winds back about eight years for the reading of Mozart’s Fifth Concerto, with less prepossessing recorded sound that’s just about as closely focused on Milstein. If the violinist wasn’t everybody’s (or anybody’s?) favorite Mozartean, his suave elegance made him a creditable performer of this repertoire. (For example, he doesn’t create artificial drama in the transition back to the statement of the first theme after the first movement’s middle section.) Milstein creates a great deal of excitement in the Finale, much of it, like the cadenzas throughout, perhaps not truly Mozartean (consider the blinding flurries of notes in the movement’s Janissary section), but few should complain.
Doremi’s version of Bach’s Chaconne in the second volume comes from 1957, after his first complete set of the Sonatas and Partitas for EMI in 1954. The recorded sound, though capturing the violinist up close, doesn’t serve him so well as did that from the later years in this collection, but it’s still serviceable and conveys his supreme tonal as well as technical command in this work, which, for him as well as for Heifetz, became almost a musical signature (he played it, along with Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, on his “last recital” in 1986). Here, he takes 13:16, resembling Heifetz’s streamlined
rather than Joseph Szigeti’s more deliberate plumbing of the work’s depths (and after hearing performances closer to 15 minutes’ duration, some listeners may find Milstein’s reading clipped, though neither glib nor hasty). Occasionally, as at about 10 minutes into the piece, Milstein engages the audience in a characteristic personal moment.
Milstein often played Paganini’s caprices on recital programs, though he, unlike more modern “superstars,” didn’t play the whole set on a single program or stray far from his few favorites. Of those, the 11th in C Major certainly constituted one, and he hisses and spits its dotted rhythms. The Fifth Caprice in A Minor (not F Minor, as the insert would have it) may have been his very favorite, and it appeared on the last recital mentioned above when, in his early 80s, he still negotiated its difficulties. Unlike Ruggiero Ricci, he never tried, so far as I know, to play the 3+1 bowings marked in the middle section, at least in public (playing it spiccato, as did Michael Rabin, another wizard almost equal to him technically). But the effect he achieved consistently electrified his hearers, violinists among them. This performance of Bach’s Chaconne and Paganini’s caprices also appeared in Urania’s release of the entire recital from Ascona, which the notes list as having taken place on 10/11/1957 (22.326,
31:5). Listeners will likely prefer Urania’s more natural transfer in these pieces.
Perhaps due to the close-up portrait of the artist in Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, Milstein’s admirers will treasure this second—and many will hope, not the last—volume of Doremi’s Milstein series. But the Mozart Concerto, played with unmistakable Milstein individuality, despite his reputation for “purity,” should also recommend it, as does the bracing Chaconne. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham