S0743. NATHAN MILSTEIN, w.Julius Rudel Cond. Vienna S.O.: Violin Concerto in a (Goldmark), Live Performance, 18 June, 1975, Musikverein; w. van Beinum Cond. Concertgebouw Orch.: Violin Concerto in D (Tschaikowsky), Live Performance, 10 Oct., 1951. [This jewel is one of the most distinctive issues in the remarkable YSL Catalogue - not to be missed! Milstein's playing is truly incandescent!] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-802. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Nathan Milstein was one of the few truly important violinists who maintained a lifelong devotion to Karl Goldmark’s Violin Concerto. Goldmark (1830–1915) was born in Hungary, and his first name was originally Károly. He spent the bulk of his life in Vienna. If he is remembered at all today it is for this Concerto, the ‘Rustic Wedding’ Symphony, and the opera THE QUEEN OF SHEBA (or perhaps one tenor aria from it). The Violin Concerto exhibits a warm, romantic sentiment, a high level of melodic inspiration, and brilliant writing for the violin. Milstein’s 1957 EMI recording with Harry Blech has long been considered the gold standard for the work, but it is wonderful to have him here in a live performance almost 20 years later. Even in his seventh decade Milstein retained his technique (he actually played well in his 80s, until a broken hand forced him to retire at 82)! This performance has a bit more spontaneity and rhythmic energy than the EMI recording. The difference is not significant, but those who love this Concerto or this violinist will be thrilled at what I believe is a first release. Presumably St. Laurent Studio’s source is a Vienna radio broadcast, and the sound is well balanced and warm. Conductor Julius Rudel’s own Viennese background provides significant sympathy to the music, and his long opera experience guarantees very sensitive accompanying.
The Tchaikovsky concerto with Milstein is available in a number of recordings, both studio and live. The first was with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1940, but perhaps the two most widely circulated are on RCA with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and on EMI with William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, a third account on DG with Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic seems a bit studied and too careful. Although the present live performance, like the Goldmark, demonstrates a bit more spark and spontaneity than the studio recordings, the difference is not as significant here. Milstein and van Beinum take a relatively reined-in approach to the music’s soaring lyricism, though they bring real fire to the faster and more energetic moments of the score. The monaural broadcast sound is terrific for its period, as is often the case with Dutch radio material.
In both Concertos the purity of the Milstein sound, the staggering bowing technique, and his deep musicality are evident. In the final pages of the first and third movements of the Tchaikovsky one is amazed at the rhythmic precision and perfect intonation of the playing, no matter how heated the performance gets. It is also a pleasure to have the incisive conducting of van Beinum in the Tchaikovsky. Together the soloist and conductor give us a performance long on rhythmic drive and energy, perhaps a bit short on sensuality or playfulness.
This disc will be self-recommending to any admirer of Milstein, in part because newly discovered recorded performances of his do not come around very often. But each reminds us that he was truly one of the greats. For those to whom it is important, Milstein employs the standard Auer cuts in the Tchaikovsky (no surprise, since he was an Auer student). St. Laurent Studio provides documentation and good transfer work but no notes. Releases are available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (norpete.com).”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"There can be no argument about Nathan Milstein's exalted place in the hierarchy of 20th-century violinists. To many, Mr. Milstein - the last surviving pupil of Leopold Auer, considered the 20th century's pre-eminent teacher of violin - was the greatest of all exponents of the 19th-century violin repertory, though he played music from Bach to Prokofiev and had achieved a special affinity for the Bach unaccompanied sonatas.
From the beginning, his playing was constantly described as ‘flawless’, 'aristocratic’ and ‘elegant’. A supreme technician, he nevertheless refrained from flaunting his extraordinary bow and finger dexterity. Instead he concentrated on the substance of the music, interpreting it in a warm, unaffected, personal manner. As a Romantic violinist he had in his repertory any number of virtuoso works, including his own ‘Paganiniana’, a wild melange of violinistic stunts based on the famous 24th Caprice by Paganini. But even in works like these he managed to imbue the music with a kind of elegance that completely transcended any hint of vulgarity.
He could well have been the most nearly perfect violinist of his time. Jascha Heifetz had a more electrifying technique, but there were those who considered him, rightly or wrongly, too cool and objective. Joseph Szigeti, who may have had a more probing musicianship and a wider repertory, never had the tone or technique of Mr. Milstein, who was able to bring everything together in a way matched by very few violinists of his time. His playing, virtuosic as it could be when the music demanded, always gave the feeling of intimacy. It was characteristic that he elected to use a Stradivarius. The Stradivarius is a more subtle instrument with a smaller sound than the Guarnerius del Jesu instruments favored by more exhibitionistic players.
Joseph Fuchs, the veteran American violinist and pedagogue, said that he had observed some significant changes in Mr. Milstein's playing during the 50 years they were friends. Mr. Milstein's tempos were faster when he was young, but as he grew older he slowed down, though he never could have been considered lethargic. But one thing Mr. Milstein always had, Mr. Fuchs said, and that was a natural, unforced way of handling the instrument. ‘There is a difference’, Mr. Fuchs said, ‘between facility and technique. Many violinists have facility. Technique is all-encompassing, taking in finger, bow and everything else. Milstein was a great technician. One reason he played so well at so advanced an age was because of his completely natural way of playing. He never forced the instrument, he never threw his muscles into strained or awkward positions. And as a musician he never stood still. He was always experimenting, changing, probing. He never stopped working’.
To Glenn Dicterow, the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and a representative of the younger generation, Mr. Milstein ranked with Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler as one who set all-time standards. ‘Milstein was the complete violinist’, Mr. Dicterow said. ‘You heard three notes of the man and you knew who was playing. It was pure, uncluttered, honest playing free of any technical problems. He set a standard that nobody today can touch. He had such incredible flow, such incredible fluency. And he always sounded so spontaneous. I know of no other violinist in history who was playing with such security at so advanced an age. He was a tremendous inspiration to me. I idolized that man’.
He had several teachers as a child, the best of whom was Peter Stoliarsky, later the teacher of David Oistrakh. The young Milstein soon outstripped everybody around. At the age of 10 he played the Glazunov a-minor Violin Concerto with the composer on the podium. At 11, he was admitted into the Odessa Conservatory. When he was 12 he was in Auer's class in St. Petersburg. Among Auer's pupils were Mischa Elman, Heifetz, Efrem Zimbalist and Toscha Seidel, all Jews. In those days it was no easy matter for a Jew to gain admittance to the St. Petersburg or Moscow Conservatories, but Auer, once convinced of the genius of a young player, managed to arrange the necessary papers. Mr. Milstein remained with Auer for about three years and later in life said that Auer had not really taught him very much.
Mr. Milstein made his recital debut in 1915, accompanied at the piano by his sister. He soon started giving recitals all over Russia. In 1921 he started a lifelong friendship with a young pianist named Vladimir Horowitz. They thought much the same way about music, played through the entire literature at home and started giving concerts together.
In 1926 Mr. Milstein left Russia for Paris, arriving there with no money and no violin. For a short period he worked with the famous Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye. He soon found a patron, made a sensational debut in Paris, and his career as one of the great violinists was launched in the West. He promptly started the life of a major instrumentalist.
Mr. Milstein was one of the few top musicians who never went out of his way to court publicity or engage in bizarre ventures that would put him in the news. In public he always maintained his dignity. In private he was a wonderful raconteur who delighted in the absurdity of many aspects of life. In conversation he would hop from one subject to another, with a crazy kind of logic behind everything.
Whenever Mr. Milstein gave a concert, it always turned out to be a violinists' convention. Every violinist in the vicinity would attend, marveling at the ease and security of his playing. Mr. Milstein never worked much on technique. ‘The technique I acquired when I was 7’, he once told an interviewer.
As an interpreter he had certain mannerisms that marked his training and the musical period in which he grew up. As an exponent of the Romantic style, he did use certain slides that the younger generation considered old-fashioned, and his conceptions were in line with his Russian schooling. Mr. Milstein understood, as many literal-minded musicians today do not, that music has to be brought to life through the fingers, brains, ears, heart and experience of a performer who must necessarily express himself as well as the composer. ‘What makes an artist?’ he once asked. ‘In the end it is temperament, personality, character that count most. Some musicians are not great technicians, but they give you a rich point of view’.
As with all Romantics, it was with the expressive side of music that Mr. Milstein was primarily concerned. But he never paraded any spurious emotions onstage. His interpretations were marked by a sweet, pure tone produced by an infallible bow arm, by vaulting melodic phrases and a keen sense of the music's structure. In an age when the new generation of critics tended to despise the performances of pre-Beethoven music by such towering figures as Heifetz and Horowitz, Mr. Milstein's Bach remained immune to criticism. And in his Romantic repertory he was acknowledged as a supreme master and the last great active exponent of the Auer school.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 22 Dec., 1992