Nathan Milstein

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Milstein Review

by Mike D. Brownell

With a career spanning more than seven decades -- a career that only came to a sudden halt after something as trivial as a broken arm -- Nathan Milstein's performances endured longer than virtually any other violinist. Unlike some, who as they approached old age found their technique diminishing, Milstein's playing actually continued to improve and mature right up through his final performance in 1987 with the New York Philharmonic. This four-disc set and short printed biography, while representing only a fraction of the literature that he actually recorded during his lifetime, gives listeners a good cross section of his abilities, interpretations, and breadth of repertoire. The second and third discs focus on four of the cornerstone works in the violin library: the concertos of Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorák. These four works, recorded later than most of the pieces on the other discs, definitely possess the best overall sound quality of the set. They also demonstrate to listeners what it was about Milstein's performances that made him such an enduring figure: deep and intimate knowledge of the score, emotiveness without undue sentimentality, and a warmth of tone not duplicated by most of his contemporaries. The first disc features more standard repertoire in the form of chamber music. Of particular enjoyment are two of his frequent collaborations with pianist Artur Balsam playing sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven. Milstein had a habit of only choosing pianists who were as well-acquainted with the score as he was, and Balsam certainly fits into that category. The final disc features lesser-known concertos of Goldmark and Glazunov, a testament to the broad scope of Milstein's repertoire. The only very notable thing missing from this otherwise fine collection is Bach -- a composer whose works virtually defined Milstein's playing. His performance of the Chaconne from the D minor Partita remains one of his most cherished works, and should absolutely have been included here.

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