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8.111259 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto / Encores (Milstein) (1949-53)
Great Violinists • Nathan Milstein
Had the life of Pyotr Ily'ich Tchaikovsky gone to its natural term of the biblical 'three score years and ten', he would have lived to at least 1910. As it was, when the violinist Nathan Milstein was growing up, the composer was still a recent memory. In polite Russian society his name was mentioned with a slight frisson of scandal, on account of his homosexuality and the fact that (as we now know) he had probably committed suicide, but in musical circles he was venerated as an icon of art: pianists aspired to thunder out the opening theme of his B flat minor Concerto and violinists could not consider themselves fully fledged until they had played his D major Concerto. In Leopold Auer's class at the St Petersburg Conservatory, the Violin Concerto was high on the list of set pieces. It is easy to see a certain amount of guilt in this sense of priorities. Tchaikovsky wrote the solos in Swan Lake for the great Hungarian violinist; and having composed the Concerto early in 1878, he offered the dedication to Auer. For reasons which are still disputed, however, Auer initially rejected the work, so it was finally given its première by its new dedicatee Adolf Brodsky in 1881 in Vienna (where the famous critic Hanslick savaged it). Auer eventually saw the error of his ways and became a distinguished advocate of the Concerto – albeit in his own edition, with quite a few changes – and more importantly, he taught the next generation to love it, including Milstein. Tchaikovsky in his turn forgave Auer and in 1990 wrote him another lovely solo in the sextet Souvenir de Florence.
Born in Odessa on New Year's Eve 1904, into a middle-class commercial family, Nathan Mironovich Milstein was encouraged by his mother to take up the violin before going at seven to Pyotr Stolyarsky's school – from which he graduated just as the next star pupil, David Oistrakh, was giving a first performance. In contrast to Oistrakh, Milstein did not develop a rapport with Stolyarsky: at an early age he developed an ironic, independent viewpoint – and a scepticism towards those in authority which would not have served him well in post-Revolution Russia. Part of this healthy dissent showed itself in a refusal to be dominated mentally by his teachers: he was dismissive of the 'cult of personality' and had run-ins with several 'star' conductors. The highlight of his time at Stolyarsky's was the brilliant performance of Glazunov's Concerto he gave in 1915 with the composer on the podium. From 1916 to 1917 he was at the St Petersburg Conservatory with Auer – for whom, true to form, he had more respect than love – and this sojourn gave the final polish to his lofty style, although he learnt as much from listening to fellow students such as Heifetz, Toscha Seidel, Eddy Brown, Miron Polyakin and Cecilia Hansen as from the great pedagogue. 'I truly came to love the violin in Petersburg,' he wrote. 'I liked going to the Conservatory, and I liked the atmosphere of competition in Auer's class – talented children playing the violin, one better than the next, inspiring me to try harder.' Milstein's capacity for hard work impressed Auer, who presented him with a bow. 'I later learned that the bow was very cheap, but for the notoriously miserly Auer it was an amazing gesture.' All the same, Milstein was forsaken when Auer emigrated to the United States in 1917; and from the age of thirteen he was essentially an auto-didact, transforming himself into the cultured figure familiar in later years.
Milstein knew considerable poverty in the years after the 1917 Revolution, but gradually built up his career and in Kiev in 1921 met Vladimir Horowitz: their duo soon grew into a trio with Gregor Piatigorsky. In 1923 Milstein played Glazunov's Concerto in the newly-named Petrograd with the conductorless orchestra 'Persimfans'; and Glazunov, drunk as usual, insisted on trying to perform an encore with him. More successful were concerts at which he and Horowitz shared the platform with the Stradivarius Quartet, or singers such as Antonina Nezhdanova and Leonid Sobinov. Sometimes he played the violin for the ageing ballerina Ekaterina Geltzer as she performed The Dying Swan. At one concert in Moscow in 1923, he gave the local premières of the (first) concertos by Szymanowski and Prokofiev, with Horowitz playing the orchestral parts on the piano. 'The culmination of my touring with Horowitz through Russia was our appearances in [ Petrograd ] in 1923,' he wrote. 'They were enormously successful. […] We were greeted and treated as rock stars are today.' The grand finale was an orchestral concert at which Milstein again played the Glazunov Concerto with the composer conducting.
On Christmas Day 1925 Milstein left Russia for good to tour Europe with Horowitz. An appearance in Spain led to his crossing the Atlantic, to give recitals in Buenos Aires and Montevideo with the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska; and at a concert in Vienna his small but select audience included Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Julius Korngold. The summer of 1926 was spent in Ysaÿe's orbit, although the Belgian told him: 'Go, there is nothing I can teach you.' He emigrated to the United States in 1928, making his début with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski the following year (in the Glazunov Concerto ), and with the New York Philharmonic in January 1930 (the Brahms Concerto under Bernardino Molinari). Back in Europe that May, he played the Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky Concertos on one evening at the Vienna Konzerthaus, with Franz Schalk conducting the State Opera Orchestra. His London début came in November 1932, in a Courtauld Concert at Queen's Hall in which he played the Brahms and Tchaikovsky with the London Symphony Orchestra under Malcolm Sargent. Thereafter he divided his career between the old world and the new. Although he became an American citizen in 1942, he was based alternately in Paris and London after World War II. He was still playing to a high standard in his early eighties – his last recital, which was filmed, was given in Stockholm in 1986. In his later years he taught, both privately and at the Juilliard School and the Zurich Conservatoire. 'What I feel I can offer these young musicians,' he said, 'is simply what I have learned myself through experience. I try not to impose my way on them, not to teach them to play, even, but to help teach them to think.' He died in London on 21 December 1992.
Milstein made four recordings of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, with the Chicago Symphony and Frederick Stock on Columbia 78rpm discs; with the Boston Symphony and Charles Munch on an RCA mono LP; with the Pittsburgh Symphony and William Steinberg on mono and stereo Capitol LPs; and finally with the Vienna Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado. The rarest up to now has been the Munch: it was issued normally in the United States by RCA Victor but in Europe, although it was allotted a ten-inch LP number by HMV, it was released only in France. HMV in Britain, which was in any case winding down its reciprocal arrangement with RCA Victor, gave preference to the 1950 version by Jascha Heifetz and the Philharmonia under Walter Susskind. The Milstein performance benefits from fiery conducting by Munch, himself a distinguished former violinist, and as always with this soloist is beautifully played. The encores with Arthur Fiedler conducting are especially welcome because the Mendelssohn, Schubert and Foster titles are unique to Milstein's discography. The three titles with the Polish pianist Artur Balsam, Milstein's regular partner for two decades, were done elsewhere although this is the only version of the Glazunov with piano. The Stravinsky, the sole number from his little opera Mavra to enter the repertoire, was arranged by Samuel Dushkin for his joint recitals with the composer. Finally, two rarities in terms of Milstein's recordings, his only obbligati for a vocalist. The Italian bass Ezio Pinza, a star of the Metropolitan Opera and then of Broadway, returned to RCA Victor at the end of his career after some years with Columbia. With his regular accompanist Gibner King and an added 'voice' from Milstein, he sings Böhm's popular ' Still wie die Nacht' (often effective as a duet, witness the version by Lucrezia Bori and Lawrence Tibbett) and Tchaikovsky's wonderful Goethe setting.
This CD, along with the Dvorák and Glazunov Concertos and the Mozart Adagio and Rondo on Naxos Historical 8.110975 and the Beethoven Spring Sonata and Brahms Sonata in D minor and Double Concerto on 8.111051, comprise all of Milstein's published recordings for RCA Victor. (An additional taping, Beethoven's Op. 23 Sonata with Balsam, remains unissued.) The sources for the transfers were a French LP for the Tchaikovsky Concerto and American pressings for the remainder (the rare original ten-inch LP for the "pops" encores with Fiedler; 45 rpm discs for the three short pieces with piano; and an LP for the two obbligati with Pinza).
TCHAIKOVSKY : Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
MENDELSSOHN (arr. Leroy Anderson): On wings of song, Op. 34, No. 2
FOSTER (arr. Leroy Anderson): Old folks at home
SCHUBERT (arr. Leroy Anderson): Ave Maria, D.839
SCHUBERT (arr. Leroy Anderson): Serenade (from Schwanengesang )
FAURÉ (arr. Leroy Anderson): Après un rêve, Op. 7, No. 1
POLDINI (arr. Kreisler): Dancing Doll
GLAZUNOV: Méditation in D major, Op. 32
STRAVINSKY (arr. Dushkin): Russian Maiden's Song
WIENIAWSKI: Mazurka in D major, Op. 19, No. 2, 'Dudziarz'
BÖHM: Calm as the night
TCHAIKOVSKY: None but the lonely heart, Op. 6, No. 6
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