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CD Review

Nathan Milstein

Italian Sonatas

  • Giuseppe Tartini: Sonata for Violin in G minor, Op. 1 #4 "Devil's Trill"
  • Antonio Vivaldi: Sonata for Violin in A Major, Op. 2 #2 RV 31
  • Arcangelo Corelli: Sonata for Violin in D minor, Op. 5: #12 "La Follia"
  • Tommaso Antonio Vitali: Chaconne in G minor
  • Giovanni Pergolesi: Sonata for Violin #12
  • Nathan Milstein: Paganiniana
Nathan Milstein, violin
Leon Pommers, Artur Balsam, Carlo Bussotti, piano
EMI Classics 66873 ADD part monaural 59:44
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Nathan Milstein, violin
Leon Pommers, piano
EMI Classics 66871 ADD monaural 74:53
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Originally released on the Capitol Classics label in the 1950s, these recordings now are part of EMI's interesting "Full Dimensional Sound" series of reissues. The 24-bit digital remastering brings out the best in Capitol's present, closely-miked violin sound.

Milstein's disc of Italian Sonatas opens with his impressive rendition of Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata. Its nickname supposedly alludes to a dream that Tartini had in which the Devil appeared with a violin and played the composer the fantastically difficult passage in compound trills that occurs in the sonata's last movement. This is followed by brief Vivaldi's Sonata in A (the second of his Op. 2), then by Corelli's famous "La Follia" Variations, a brilliant showpiece in the style of a passacaglia. A sonata by Francesco Geminiani comes next, then Tommaso Vitali's rigorous Chaconne. The disc closes with the Sonata #12 by Giovanni Pergolesi (material from this appeared in Stravinsky's ballet Pulcinella) and Milstein's own virtuosic variations on a theme of Paganini, titled Paganiniana. This seems like a good place to note that none of the editions used by Milstein on this recording is authentic; 19th- and 20th-century violinists felt free to adapt music of the Baroque and early Classical periods to their needs. In a sense, I suppose Milstein's playing is "authentic" after all, as long we only look as far back as the 1800s! The Geminiani, Vitali, and Paganiniana recordings are new to CD. Milstein's aristocratic and somewhat cool tone suits these pieces well.

Of the 24 encores on the Vignettes CD, the first 13 were released in 1956, and the remaining 11 were released the following year. Over half of them have not appeared on CD until now. What's particularly nice about this collection is that many of these encores are not the most visible members of their species. For example, Smetana's From My Homeland is like the orchestral Ma Vlast in a 4 minute and 39 second capsule, but when was the last time you heard it in a violin recital? Similarly, Milstein's own transcription of Chopin's C sharp Minor Nocturne (Op. Posthumous) is a welcome change from the omnipresent Op. 9, #2 in E Flat. The obvious encores that are present (the Meditation from Thaïs, Flight of the Bumblebee, Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits) are played with a welcome touch of modesty and even distance – again, a characteristic of Milstein's playing. Not the most honey-toned of violinists, Milstein nevertheless invests these 24 encores with the benefits of excellent taste and a strong technique. Rhythm is not allowed to become subservient to melody, and that's one of the secrets of making a CD (or even an old-fashioned LP) of encores such as these work. No monotony here.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle