Notes and Editorial Reviews
These are concerts performances that took place on March 16, 1950 (Brahms), and March 18, 1951 (Schumann). Typical of Archipel, no insert notes are provided, and a key issue such as the composer of the cadenza played by Milstein is never given. (It is, I am almost certain, the violinist’s own.) What Archipel does tell us is that these transfers have been issued from “the original source,” a statement about as clear and specific as the most convoluted piece of political double-talk.
I raise these faults because the content of the release deserves better, at least where the Brahms is concerned. Put simply, it is one of the finest accounts of the work that I have heard. Milstein had a special sympathy for this piece, and his luminous tone, technical finesse, and command of line and structure are wondrous from beginning to end. The performance is utterly free of the longuers that have infected the work of many celebrated violinists in this score. Melodies sing but never cloy, with the music’s magical moments—such as the conclusion of the first movement—soaring with touching unaffected directness and apt simplicity. And, where suitable, both Milstein and de Sabata dig into the score with a tough thrust that recalls the marvels of the old Szgeti/Harty account.
The Schumann is another matter. I have a vague memory of Arrau’s 78-rpm recording of the work with Karl Kreuger and the Detroit Symphony, and this performance confirms that memory. Specifically, it offers as fussy and affected a first movement as one is likely to hear, with tempos hauled about and rhythm frequently ruptured. It is almost as if Arrau were trying to emphasize as strongly as possible the Florestan-Eusebius contrasts in Schumann’s artistic personality. The two concluding movements display more discipline, but cannot save things, especially as the mediocre sound fails to capture one of the major virtues of Arrau’s playing, his opulent tone. Here it is burdened by a limited dynamic and frequency range and by a slight but nonetheless audible “wow.”
The sound of the Brahms is considerably better, markedly so compared to a Nuova Era transfer of some 20 years ago. And Archipel’s release can be made to sound better still with a gradual high-frequency boost in the 6000 to 9000 Hz range. When this is done, it is as if Milstein were in the room. For the Brahms alone, this is a disc worth pursuing.
FANFARE: Mortimer H. Frank