Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Pieces by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Glazunov, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, et al
Nathan Milstein (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Charles Munch [Concerto]
RCA Victor Orchestra
Artur Balsam (piano)
Ezio Pinza (bass) & Gibner King (piano)
Concerto recorded on 29 March 1953 in Symphony Hall, Boston; the other recordings were made in New York – in 1949 (Balsam), 1950 (Fiedler) and 1952 (Pinza)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: NAXOS 8.111259
Duration: 70 minutes
This, the rarest of Nathan Milstein’s four recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – apart from America it was only issued in France –, is now generally available, beautifully transferred, on one of Naxos’s indispensable ‘historical’ issues.
The great violinist Nathan Milstein was born in Odessa on the last day of 1904. He then settled in America and became a US citizen in 1942. He died in London in 1992. Not only was Milstein a supreme instrumentalist but he was also a wonderful musician, and this recorded account of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto (Milstein’s second) is a fertile example of the violinist’s fiery expression and long-viewed integration – the first-movement cadenza seems more part of the whole than is usual – and with Charles Munch and his Bostonians offering poised spontaneity, this venerable recording blows away the clichéd cobwebs that can compromise this most ubiquitous of violin concertos. Thus the ‘Canzonetta’ is neither mawkish nor indulged and the exuberant finale (dancing Cossacks not far away) enjoys shape rather than empty display and none of the tedious sign-posting of episodes that can weaken the flow. Milstein’s gorgeous yet refined tone and his patrician technique is a constant source of pleasure. The recording, lovingly restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, is musically balanced in not spotlighting Milstein and affording the orchestra an equal footing.
The eleven ‘encores’ that follow are each fascinating. The first six – recorded in January 1950 in New York with Arthur Fiedler conducting – include five arrangements by Leroy Anderson, not least (as rendered by Milstein) a heartfelt ‘On wings of song’ (Mendelssohn) and tender ‘Ave Maria’ (Schubert), while Poldini’s Dancing Doll (transcribed by Kreisler) pirouettes with charm and not a little sentiment. With pianist Artur Balsam, Glazunov’s Méditation reaches expressive heights and Wieniawski’s Mazurka in D is proudly stamped. The final two tracks find Milstein forming a ‘trio’ with Ezio Pinza and the singer’s regular accompanist Gibner King; one ‘take’ is Tchaikovsky’s “None but the lonely heart” (sung here in English), with an eloquent obbligato from Milstein complementing Pinza’s intensely resonant if legato-lacking singing.
Throughout this superb release, Milstein’s joy of communication is evident – he is just as responsive to Stephen Foster’s “Old folks at home” as he is to Fauré’s “Après un rêve” – so too his distinctive timbres. This release of meat and trifles is consistent in displaying Milstein’s innate musicianship.