Milstein Rarities = LALO: Symphonie espagnole in d minor, Op. 21; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in e minor: Andante & Allegro non troppo; Allegro molto vivace; DVORAK: Violin Concerto in a minor, Op. 53 – Nathan Milstein, violin/ Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy (Lalo)/ Philharmonic-Symphony of New York/ Arturo Toscanini (Mendelssohn)/ Leopold Stokowski (Dvorak) – Pristine Audio PASC 503, 66:15 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
The aristocrat of violinists, Milstein, has three rare performances restored to us by Mark Obert-Thorn.
A few moments after my receipt of Mark Obert-Thorn’s latest restoration, “Milstein Rarities,” I played the collaboration of 26 October 1947 of the Dvorak Violin Concerto with Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic. Not only does this document preserve a new addition to the legacy of Leopold Stokowski, it illuminates Milstein’s approach to a work he did not begin to record over the course of his career—thrice—until 4 March 1951 in Minneapolis with Antal Dorati. Milstein (1904-1992), like Jascha Heifetz, had been a pupil of Leopold Auer; but unlike Heifetz, Milstein did not nurture a ‘sang froid’ demeanor in his art to complement the technical proficiency he displayed. I had the good fortune to interview Milstein briefly after a performance of the Beethoven Concerto in Atlanta, at which he played the Preludio from the Bach E Major Partita as an encore. When I inquired why Milstein had never taken up the Sibelius Concerto, he retorted disdainfully, “You call that a ‘concerto’?”
The first of the rarities offered, the Lalo Symphonie espagnole (19 November 1944 & 15 March 1945) in the four-movement version, has Eugene Ormandy’s leading the Philadelphia Orchestra on Columbia Records (M 564, previously unissued). From the outset, the collaboration sets a fervid tempo and elastic, biting, potent drive. Milstein’s attacks have a swift, vibrant sonority, with deep, breathed phraseology, supported by flamboyant woodwind and brass openwork. The Scherzando moves with mercurial, ardent and Iberian flavor, enjoying various inflections from Milstein that make us wish he had documented a complete set of Sarasate Spanish Dances. The least ‘Spanish’ of the movements, the Andante, projects a solemn yet lyrical dirge or meditative lament whose D Major transition procures from Milstein some of the most burnished sound I’ve heard in this music. Listen to his glissando and trills as he moves to the restatement of the funereal theme over muted tympanic beats. The last page is sheer ethereal magic. The Rondo sets a gigue rhythm in ostinato and crescendo that initiates a suave dance ornamented by a shifting array of orchestral colors. This performance—in spite of the omission of the brilliant Intermezzo movement—reminds us that one of the work’s most outspoken admirers was Peter Tchaikovsky.
In the Mendelssohn Concerto excerpt (29 March 1936 from Carnegie Hall), we have the only surviving evidence of Milstein’s having worked with Toscanini. Milstein once bragged that after this performance, he had been able to beat Heifetz handily at ping-pong! The fragment opens with Milstein’s ingratiating flute tone in the cantabile statement of the Andante, with sustained horn tones and equally ardent cantare from Toscanini. The passionate articulation of the playing stands in powerful contrast to the contemporary treatment of this music in Germany. The last movement, which receives a manic pace from Toscanini, seems typical of The Maestro’s urgent conception, to which Milstein adapts with Dionysiac aplomb. Despite a few sound drop-outs, the movement shimmers with an unbroken, fever of commitment, often as light as it is frenzied. The sound quality has gained much from the helpful ministrations of Andrew Rose.
It was in 1929 that Milstein made his American debut in Philadelphia, with Leopold Stokowski. Their exploration of the Dvorak Concerto—which Milstein had played in Germany with Furtwaengler – proves unique, in the sense that each of Milstein’s successive, commercial readings – with Dorati, Steinberg, and de Burgos—reveals a different aspect of the score, whether it be in tempo, phrasing, the intonation on double-stops, or the long, flexible melodic line. When Milstein has control of a work, it evolves in one ready materialization, “the Platonic conception of itself,” to paraphrase Gatsby. The final comment on this collaboration comes directly from Stokowski, whose “Bravo!” has been enshrined forever and speaks for us all.