Friday, 13 December 2013

Nathan Milstein, and Lisa Batiashvili

It is good to see old classic recordings being re-issued in improved sound. The latest I have received is Nathan Milstein's rightly famous 1957 recording of Goldmark's genial violin concerto. This is Milstein in his prime, and in his element. It seems to me that, like Jascha Heifetz, Milstein is heard at his best in works that enabled him to show off his superb violin playing; certainly his playing in the Goldmark grips the attention and invokes smiles of delight. The Praga Digital refurbishment in SACD sound produces astonishing results; the solo violin sound, in particular, is of demonstration quality.

Also on the CD, and also in excellent sound, is Milstein playing the Brahms concerto with Anatole Fistoulari and the Philharmonia (1960). The two Ukrainians give a fleet performance, ignoring Brahms “non troppo” qualification for the first and third movements. The adagio is pretty rapid, and the Philharmonia throughout the work sounds like a loyal accompanist rather than an equal participant. The genial Brahms from North Germany is not too much in evidence. Exciting it doubtless is, and played effortlessly by Milstein; but is it Brahms? Turn to Lisa Batiashvili and Christian Thielemann with the Staatskapelle Dresden to find a different world, and a far more mellow Johannes Brahms. In her way, Batiashvili is as fine a violinist as Milstein, and her track record in the Beethoven, Brahms and first Shostakovich violin concertos suggests she is also a musician of considerable stature. Milstein's violin playing in the Goldmark concerto is what matters there, but in the Brahms concerto we need more than just superb, breathtaking violin playing.

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