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Milstein Rarities
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op. 21 (1874) [24:05]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor (excerpts): Andante and Allegro non troppo; Allegro molto vivace (1844) [5:34 + 5:54]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53 (1884) [30:35]
Nathan Milstein (violin)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Lalo)
Philharmonic-Symphony of New York/Arturo Toscanini (Mendelssohn), Leopold Stokowski (Dvořák)
rec. March 1936, Carnegie Hall (Mendelssohn), 1944-45, Academy of Music, Philadelphia (Lalo) and October 1947, Carnegie Hall (Dvořák)

The word is rarity. As Mark Obert-Thorn points out, the Lalo with Ormandy hasn’t been reissued officially since the days of 78, the live Mendelssohn torso is the only example of a meeting between Milstein and Toscanini, whilst the Dvořák is both live and never-before-issued and thus the biggest prize of all in the rarity stakes.

Like many Auer students Milstein omitted the Lalo Intermezzo in his 1944-45 Columbia recording in Philadelphia. The presence of the 1955 St Louis/Golschmann Capitol LP has tended to relegate this earlier set to the back of reissue maestro’s minds whilst live survivors such as the Cluytens-directed version in Paris (see review) in the same year as the St Louis studio reading, have served perhaps only to make things more awkward for the 78rpm set, which has been a pity - until now. Ormandy, himself a decent fiddler in his youth – try listening to those old Cameo sides that have been transferred to CD – knows the terrain perfectly, bringing the winds forward when required and drawing out the lower strings powerfully: it helps to have so superbly virtuoso an instrument at the Philadelphia Orchestra playing, of course. Milstein remains everything Hugh Bean said he was; the embodiment of perfect violin playing. His poise and unruffled bowing, the scintillating clarity of his articulation and the lyrical purity of his phrasing are always treasurable. Those few succulent slides in the finale serve notice of his piquant elocution here, and the droll exchanges between winds and soloist cap a reading of cosmopolitan, though admittedly hardly Gallic sensibility.

The Mendelssohn preserves almost all of the slow movement and the finale of what proved to be one of Toscanini’s final performances with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York given in March 1936 in Carnegie Hall. I grew up with Milstein’s Pittsburgh recording with Steinberg, working backwards to the Bruno Walter New York recording of 1945 – I didn’t hear their V Disc recording until much later – before briefly acquainting myself with the Barzin/Philharmonia and not getting around to the late Abbado in Vienna. The sound of the torso is rough, with big overloading at fortes and a brief dropout. Toscanini could be brutal with Mendelssohn, as he could with Dvořák and he’s too rugged. Milstein responds with some elfin sentiment along the way, and the finale is duel-like, in the manner of Heifetz/Cantelli – or indeed Heifetz/Toscanini. This once appeared on an Arturo Toscanini Society LP.

The Dvořák, again with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, dates from October 1947 but features Stokowski, hitherto known only for his performances of the composer’s Ninth Symphony, Serenade for Strings and a solitary Slavonic Dance, though another tidbit or two exist in the vaults. Milstein was notable among Russians – as was, later, Oistrakh – for his highly persuasive performances of this concerto (if only he hadn’t been quite so cavalier in his dismissal of the Sibelius and Elgar). His Steinberg, Dorati and Burgos studio performances have their adherents, and I liked his live performance as well on Music and Arts with Kletzki in 1956. Stokowski encourages greater breadth in the slow movement than in any of these other collaborations and proves a supportive colleague. As ever Milstein brings out the agile rhythms, though not quite with the rusticity of a Suk or the potent incision of a Příhoda. There’s the bonus of hearing Stokowski’s ‘bravo’ at the end.

This finely transferred disc has done all it can for the Mendelssohn and its appreciable best for the companion concertos.

Jonathan Woolf



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