A sound as soft as velvet, as pure as spring water, an infallible bow, an acute sense of musical respiration… He did not want to be a violinist! "I didn't feel drawn to the violin, but it was my mother's wish. So I played it." Nathan Milstein's mother, who simply wanted to calm down a boisterous son, had good intuition.
Nathan, born on December 31st, 1903 in Odessa, receives tuition from Piotr Stoliarsky, who later teaches David Oïstrakh. He then goes to the Conservatory of Saint Petersburg and attends the class of the most eminent master of the period, Leopold Auer, where he rivals with his comrades among whom is a certain Jascha Heifetz. In 1921, he makes the acquaintance of Vladimir Horowitz. The concerts they give together throughout the Soviet Union are a sensation, and they decide to emigrate to Western Europe in 1925. The friendship they strike up lasts their entire lives.
When he arrives in Paris, Nathan Milstein works with Eugène Ysaÿe. In 1929 he leaves for the United States where he makes a spectacular debut under the direction of Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Concerto by Glazounov, the piece he had played for his first concert at the age of ten, under the direction of the composer himself.
From then on, he enjoys a life that is too happy to give rise to passionate stories. A name sums it up: Marie-Thérèse, the name he gives to his Stradivarius (it is the combination of the names of his daughter Marie and of his wife Thérèse). Exceptionally in his case age will not affect the steadiness of his bow, thanks to the extremely supple and natural way he holds his instrument. He was thus able to play for a long time, almost until his death in 1992, at the age of eighty-eight, a tribute to his mother's choice in spite of himself.
Once his career is established, Milstein only plays what he likes: a hundred opuses from Corelli to Prokofiev. Sometimes he will play just a movement since he doesn't hesitate to sacrifice what he doesn't like. His entire life he kept only one book at his bedside: Bach's Sonatas and Partitas which he recorded in 1973 for Deutsche Grammophon. But it is Mozart that he plays for us in a rather special Concerto in A Major: the first movement of the concerto, recorded one evening in 1963 in London, is followed by the Adagio in E which is nothing more than the second version of the second movement, and the Rondo in C Major which were recorded in 1957.
The "Kreutzer" Sonata for Violin and Piano by Beethoven is subjected to the same treatment, since Milstein, deeming that Beethoven had failed the andante, only plays the first and last movements! No matter: in 1969 in Paris, recorded with the very young Georges Pludermacher who was to be his partner during several years, Milstein offers a sublime version of rare intensity.
As a conclusion, in keeping with this kaleidoscopic programme, the Allegro Giocoso of the Violin Concerto by Brahms, filmed in 1963 in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Great Milstein.
Hollywood Symphony orchestra, Antal Dorati - "Concert Magic"
Edinburgh Festival 1964