The Art of Nathan Milstein = BACH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor; BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor; BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major; LALO: Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21 – Music&Arts (2)

by | Jul 27, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Art of Nathan Milstein = BACH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A
Minor, BWV 1041; BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26;
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, OP. 77; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto
in D Major, Op. 61; LALO: Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21 – Antal
Dorati/ORTF Orchestre; Istvan Kertesz/ORTF Orchestre (Brahms); Eugene
Ormandy/ Concertgebouw Orchestra (Beethoven); Andre Cluytens/ORTF
Orchestre (Lalo)

Music&Arts CD-1168  76:11; 66:35  (Distrib. Albany)****:

Among the shining stars of the Russian pantheon of great violinists,
Nathan Milstein (1904-1992) remains virtually a law unto himself, an
auto-didact who could only refer to the pedagogues of his tradition and
technique–Auer and Stoliarsky–as having been amusing and relatively
uninfluential to his own musical development. I had the honor of 
a short interview with Milstein in Atlanta after his having performed
the Beethoven Concerto under the adversity of back spasms, only to
offer as an encore the E Major Bach Partita opening played flawlessly.
The span of these live performances, 1955-1963, capture Milstein in
peak form (he was hardly anything less), pushing the musical line, as
was his wont, and dazzling us with fierce bowing and exalted lyricism.
The security of his playing strikes us immediately, the athlete’s sense
of controlled, graduated release of unlimited energies, as in the
upward scales and intensified stretti in the opening Allegro of the A
Minor Bach Concerto.

“Individual and always masculine” was fellow violinist Edward Melkus’
assessment of the Milstein Bach legacy.  Milstein and Dorati
collaboate for some hearty sparks in the finale, which enjoys a plastic
elegance of line, along with its visceral, driving sense of
inevitability. The Bruch G Minor Concerto from the same concert (24
September 1961) generates the explosive passion and dauntless finesse
we expect in a Milstein rendition of an old staple; and even his 1942
commercial recording with Barbirolli palpitates with intense
concentration.

The Brahms (from 23 September 1963) features the rare appearance of the
tragically short-lived Istvan Kertsez (d. 1973) on the podium, sharing
with Milstein a large and compassionate canvas in this great score, a
girth of conception on a par with Milstein’s mighty rendition with
Eugen Jochum, a version even Henryk Szeryng called “stirring.” 
Any number of individual touches, a point of rubato, a point of
marcato, make the Milstein first movement shimmer with excitement,
right up into his own cadenza, which plays as a homage to Paganini,
Brahms, and Sarasate.  The soaring legato Milstein achieves in
tandem with the French horn and then descending with the oboe in the
second movement is one of the glories of his art. The rough-edged
Hungarian finale is a tad vulgar in the Huberman tradition, with
Milstein’s spitfire staccato notes and Kertesz’s self-indulgent
rhythmic license and tympanic explosions at cadences. A great
performance.

The Beethoven Concerto (5 October 1959) has Milstein keeping the
otherwise unimaginative Eugene Ormandy in tow, here providing a more
resonant, dramatic, and noble performance than is the conductor’s wont.
Milstein’s approach alternates between the respectfully detached
sobriety of style, with immaculate but unvaried phrasings, to sudden
urgings of the musical impulse that renew our sense of just how much
nervous tension he can generate when he so desires. What always asserts
itself are the sense of proportion, the sheer balance of phrase
lengths, and the exalted lyricism of the conception. Violin
connoisseurs may wonder or smirk at Milstein’s individual cadenzas,
rife with tremolos and wild shifts of registration. Almost no space
separates the first two movements, an abrupt edit, and the G Major
Larghetto rises on Dedaelus’ gossamer wings and onto the spirited
Rondo, whose bassoon dialogue with the violin is particularly deft. The
abbreviated version of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (July 1955) with
Cluytens is all Sarasate, with gypsy slides and wicked vibrato. The
sensuality of phrase could resurrect Joan Crawford from her watery
grave in Humoresque.  The Scherzando outdoes Ruggiero Ricci for
explosive Andalusian energy. The suave Andante leads to a fierce,
spirited Rondo whose last note squeezes the last bit of Iberian juice
from a virile performance.

–Gary Lemco

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