Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nathan Milstein: In Portrait (Some memories of a quiet magician)
Nathan Milstein: Master of Invention
Beethoven: 'Kreutzer' Sonata
Personal introductions by Christopher Nupen
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 and 4:3
Sound format: LPCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (All Regions)
Subtitles: German, Spanish, Finnish, French, Italian
Running time: 225 minutes
No. of DVDs: 2
Christopher Nupen - Winner of the documentary DVD of the Year Award in Cannes in 2005 and 2006
A Christopher Nupen film belonging to a long line of memorable portraits of the great performers. His Jacqueline du Pré portrait has sold over 22,000 copies in two years and his Segovia portrait over 12,000 in one.
This DVD, which contains, among other things, the only portrait film ever made with Nathan Milstein, is the product of a close friendship between a dedicated film-maker and one of the finest violinists of the twentieth century. It was shot in the autumn of the longest career in the history of solo violin playing; 73 years lay between Milstein's first appearance with Glazunov conducting and his last recital in the Berwaldhallen in Stockholm in 1986.That legendary recital provides most of the music for this DVD. Milstein's partner was the French pianist Georges Pludermacher, with whom he had worked for more than 20 years.
Nathan Milstein was an astonishing 82 years old at the time, but still playing as the grandest of Grand Masters and, as probably no other violinist has ever played at 82. This DVD will be of interest to virtually every violinist alive and to most students of the violin.
R E V I E W:
This documentary ends at its beginning, or begins at its end. Its culmination is a fine film of Nathan Milstein’s last concert, recorded in Stockholm in 1986. No-one knew it was to be his last concert, even though he was 82 years old at the time. It very nearly didn’t happen at all, because on the morning it was to be held, Milstein woke with a severe pain in the first finger of his left hand. Soon the injury was to force his retirement after a professional career that had spanned 73 years. Despite his pain, Milstein doesn’t compromise on quality because he knows how important this film will be for posterity. His fluency and inventive fingerings gave him the skill to adapt his fingerings and still play with astonishing virtuosity. Both the Kreutzer and the Chaconne are difficult works, yet Milstein’s interpretation is vivacious and fluid, as if freshly thought through. Even though he’d been playing them all his life, he was, in effect playing them anew - a spontaneous new approach.
This film is a kind of master-class, not merely in demonstrating technical skill, but because it goes further, exploring what made Milstein the man and musician he was. Milstein knew Auer, Glazunov, Piatigorsky, Rachmaninov and Heifetz. Russian music circles in those days were close and intimate. Horowitz invited him for tea one day at his home near what is now Chernobyl. Milstein stayed three years and they became lifelong friends. What’s fascinating is that his anecdotes are first person. His account of playing for a crowd of Soviet workers brims with sharp observation. Later there’s a priceless shot in which Milstein receives an award with Sammy Davis Jnr. Throughout the film are excerpts from music Milstein played or loved. There’s even a list so you can play them in full on your own.
Even more interesting are pithy insights he shares from decades of playing. For example, “Anyone who doesn’t know what invention is should stop playing”. The section where he has dinner with Pinchas Zuckerman was spontaneous, filmed without a script or rehearsals. Much had to be cut from the final film for space reasons – somewhere in the archive must lie further treasures. This unassuming “violinist’s violinist” as Zuckerman calls Milstein, exudes an air of “intense calm … and self-truth” because what he fundamentally believes in is the intrinsic value of music. As Zuckerman puts it, music can leave us “exhausted, exhilarated, uplifted and humble”.
As film, this set may be more conventional than the truly exceptional Sibelius film but that’s no demerit. The Sibelius film was a work of art in its own right, superbly poetic and profound. This is more direct. It’s interesting not just because it preserves Milstein’s technique for posterity, but because it also shows what it means to be a true musician.
-- Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb International