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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Nathan Milstein recorded the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto four times, but this earliest version, made fro RCA in1953, was never issued in Britain, only in the United States and France. It is the most commanding performance imaginable, with a flawless technique matching a deep concentration and warm expressiveness, with no exaggeration in its fresh directness. The pianissimo in the second subject of the first movement is breathtaking, defying the tendency of mono recordings of that period to iron out the dynamics. The tonal contrasts are also beautifully caught, and the whole performance makes it feel as if one is hearing the work for the first time. The collection of encore pieces makes an attractive supplement, not least the two final items, Calm as the night by Böhm and None but the lonely heart by Tchaikovsky, when Milstein is joined by the great Italia bass, Ezio Pinza.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Nathan Milstein made four recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and though by common consent it was the 1948 recording with the Chicago Symphony and Frederick Stock that brought out his most inspired performance, this dashing 1953 version issued on early LP is technically immaculate. Born in Russia in 1903 and one of seven children, he knew poverty in his early years, and though he was to study the violin with outstanding mentors, from the age of thirteen he was self-taught. Never regarded as a prodigy, he arrived in the States at the age of 23, and was met by a market already oversubscribed with great virtuoso violinists. He was never to command the fees of many of his colleagues, but slowly carved out a long and sustained career that lasted well past his 80th birthday. Indeed the violin was such a natural part of his physique he never suffered the physical problems that beset others. He was to form the famous trio with the pianist, Horowitz, and cellist, Piatigorsky, and it was the latter who once wrote,I never caught him practicing scales or any other exercises. In fact, he did not give an impression of practicing at all, yet I rarely found him without the violin in his hands”. At times there was a degree of detachment from the music, the performances coolly efficient, without a note out of place, and always covered with immaculate intonation. He played the Tchaikovsky concerto with cuts that were often used at the time, and to modern ears it butchers the finale. Playing the second of his two Strads in the 1950's, a instrument that sings gorgeously, the soloist placed well forward, though there is much orchestral definition available. The remainder of the disc is made up of lollypops mainly recorded in 1949 and 1950, many appearing in arrangements by Leroy Anderson. He was prolific in his recording of vignettes, and if this is not his most interesting selection, it nevertheless shows how he could bring his artistry to these trifles, though None but the lonely heart with Ezio Pinza was recorded more for its commercial prospects. The background hum could not be completely removed from the original LP of the Tchaikovsky.

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