Bach – Complete Sonatas & Partitas, Chaconne / Presentation + New Master (C. rec : Nathan Milstein)

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Bach – Complete Sonatas & Partitas, Chaconne / Presentation + New Master (C. rec : Nathan Milstein)

“What are you playing there, boy? Bach you’re playing? “As he did throughout his long and miraculous career so full of unexpected events, Nathan Milstein knew how to make the most of Bach’s music. The person who asked him this question was none other than the great violin virtuoso and pedagogue Leopold Auer. Milstein (he was twelve years old) answered with the Sonata in G minor for solo violin He took the Presto that day at such a lively tempo that Auer snapped his fingers to slow the young boy down. The great man was impressed enough, however, to offer Milstein five gold rubles and a place in his class in St. Petersburg This was a decisive moment in Milstein’s life and artistic orientation, set in a hotel suite in his native Odessa, where Auer gave a few recitals on the eve of the Russian Revolution, of which Bach, significantly, proved to be the linchpin Nathan Milstein (1903 – 1992) or the virtuoso violinist par excellence of this century. Others of the same generation showed even more specific qualities – the virtuosity of Heifetz superstar, Szigeti’s ever-searching intelligence, Fritz Kreisler’s irresistible musicality, from which they gained greater fame and which made them more loved by the public Milstein possessed all these qualities, beautifully proportioned, but he never sought or felt the need for the kind of celebrity that forged the legends of Heifetz, Szigeti and so many others. A highly individualized artistic sense and a passion for the violin were the basis of a career spanning some seventy years Nowhere were these components of his greatness more magnificently brought together than in the daunting heights of violin literature, such as Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin In his memoirs from Russia to the West, written with Solomon Volkov, Milstein recalls that, at the time of his first encounter with Auer, the Sonata in G minor was the only work by Bach he knew. “It was all that was usual to hear from Bach in Odessa at that time,” Milstein wrote. “We knew that there was a famous Chaconne, but no one dared to play it because it was so demanding and difficult to master.” In Russia, during Milstein’s youth, Bach’s three Sonatas and three Partitas for solo violin were not very popular in Russia. Milstein’s first teacher in Odessa, the esteemed Pyotr Stolyarsky, had his students play the Allegro assai of the Sonata in C major in group and unison Milstein, however, recalls that Auer, curiously, was less interested in Bach’s rigorous solo violin works than in some of the tastier works, such as Massenet’s Meditation of Thais or Dvorak’s Humoresque Milstein soon set out to follow his only intuition in the interpretation of Bach, immersing himself in this music to the point of trying to make his own way even through the well-tempered Clavier which he approached on the violin Milstein soon set out to follow his only intuition in the interpretation of Bach, immersing himself in this music to the point of trying to make his own way even through the well-tempered Clavier which he approached on the violin “Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin offer the performer the opportunity to approach the most enchanting light,” Milstein noted. “And yet for a long time, they had difficulty imposing themselves ” At the time Milstein began his international career, the Sonatas and Partitas occupied a significant place in his highly selective repertoire. His solo recitals usually included at least one movement from one of them, and even in his orchestral appearances he frequently played a movement as an encore This habit became a tradition, dating back to a 1934 concert he gave at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, where Milstein followed up Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the entire G-minor Sonata. The conductor, Bruno Walter, had suggested Bach as an encore, and Milstein, captivated by the idea of Bach’s day in Leipzig, and moreover in this hall, played the Adagio, but could not stop until he had completed the Sonata The impact was irresistible, surpassing even the most dazzling pyrotechnic effects of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto. Early reviews of Milstein’s concerts seem to share with Auer the same impatience with the architectural splendours of Bach’s solo violin writing. And the critics marvel at how well Milstein managed to make them truly moving “No doubt the applause that followed the fugue in this Bach work,” wrote the New Time Telegram critic after a 1935 concert by Milstein, “was a tribute to the prodigious work of assimilating a work of such ungrateful complexity.” Two and a half years later, Jerome D. Two years later, Jerome D. Bohm of the New York Herald Tribune reminded his readers that Milstein (again in the G-minor Sonata) had triumphed in music “that in the hands of most violinists seems dry and boring … so one realizes that if this Sonata and others like it seem uninteresting, it is not Bach’s fault, but that of his performers Milstein put such nobility and commitment into championing the Sonatas and Partitas that they became an essential part of the repertoire of all serious violinists As with everything he played, his approach and interpretation evolved throughout his life as an artist, not as a consequence of age or any search for effect through virtuosity, but because he was constantly in search of the elusive musical truth contained in these works He was the first modern virtuoso to perceive the right and splendid measure of these six masterpieces, for whose interpretation he set the bar very high from the outset These recordings are proof of the marvellous balance on which his art rested: silvery and aristocratic timbre, breathtaking virtuosity, clarity of conception, invention, finally a profound musicality, all his qualities are fused together through a manifest devotion to the violin itself, this miraculous instrument. They all speak here, and eloquently, of an incomparable virtuoso and a dazzling musical spirit. END