Naxos Historical 8.111051, 73:20 ****:
Expert restorations devoted to Russian violin virtuoso Nathan Milstein (1904-1992), whose artistry this reviewer esteemed above all others, including Heifetz. Mark Obert-Thorn has resuscitated 1950-1951 inscriptions Milstein made for RCA, including the rare collaboration with Artur Balsam (1906-1994) in the Spring Sonata (6 June 1950) and the one extant chamber work Milstein inscribed with his partner of long standing, Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989), in the last of the Brahms sonatas (22, 29 June 1950). The cleanliness of articulation in the Spring Sonata is now even more pronounced than it had been in the LP incarnation (LM 134). Considering how little patience Milstein had for Beethoven’s violin writing, the spontaneity and lightness of his approach is remarkable for its fluency and sympathy with Balsam’s bravura piano part. The last movement is literally as breezy as a Spring morning, rife with digital sunshine.
Milstein and Horowitz failed to make more recordings of duo sonatas for the simple reason that they could not agree on repertory. The matched virtuosity in this relatively fast-paced, unsentimental account achieves several luminous moments, beyond the unearthly parlando effects and aura of mystery that permeates the first two movements. A salon intimacy pervades the Adagio, whose starts and stops more than suggest the influence of Schumann. Milstein’s suave rendition of the scherzo makes me regret Huberman’s not having also recorded the piece, especially as Milstein ads a hint of Singhalese (in sympathy to the last movement of the A Minor Concerto) to the mix. Lovely, deft arpeggios from Horowitz. The last movement cuts loose, with Horowitz reminding us what he could do with the Allegro appassionato from the B-flat Concerto. The ritornello opening theme becomes quite superheated, the bass chords in Horowitz’s piano seething while Milstein drives forward. Only the Oistrakh/Rchter collaboration a generation later would rival this distinct performance for Russian soul.
Milstein recorded the A Minor Concerto (29 June 1951) as a tribute to his friend Gregor Piatagorsky. Milstein later refused a request by Pierre Fournier to make a stereo version. Assisted by Fritz Reiner and the summer Philadelphia Orchestra, Piatagorsky and Milstein make swift, blazing work of the piece. Piatagorsky’s tone is wide, his vibrato fast. His romantic, lingering approach is offset by Reiner and Milstein’s forward impetus. While this restores all four Brahms concertos (under RCA contract) with Fritz Reiner at the helm; some collectors are lucky enough to own the Brahms D Minor Piano Concerto with Serkin (from Pittsburgh) on CD as well. Here, Reiner leads the orchestra he truly coveted but never led as permanent conductor. There is nothing of Milstein’s purported irony in the plastic, finely molded Andante, his taste for Brahms always jaded by his feeling that the part writing is unidiomatic. The Vivace non troppo enjoys a vigorous muscularity, a Hungarian flavor thoroughly convincing without sacrificing the clarity of line for which each of these principals was justly famous. Recommended.
— Gary Lemco