Nathan Milstein’s “Kreutzer”

My friend Dr. David Mallory, a formidable violinist, told me that one test of a violin is to perform Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata with a nine-foot grand piano. If the violin is audible it passes the test.

Here is my favorite violinist, Milstein, playing the Kreutzer’s last movement. I call Milstein my favorite not because his playing was better than other virtuosi, but because his eccentricities speak to me.

He held the violin slightly lower on the shoulder than most other players, and his bowing was not particularly straight, making his appearance seem loose. But his playing always strikes me as intuitive and free, as if he were improvising. Milstein seemed to have absorbed the music into his very personality.

His use of the bow in this piece is fantastic. He goes out of his way to place accents at the tip of the bow (0:30), rather than at the frog — where the bow is held, and where gravity urges us to place our accents. The effect is a definite nudge at the front of the note with growth as the note is sustained.

I am also struck by Milstein as a collaborator with Georges Pludermacher, his pianist. When he has running eigth-notes with the piano (5:10), Milstein drops his volume slightly, allowing his sound to blend with the sound from Pludermacher’s right hand.

And, of course, the gold tone of Milstein’s Strad can be heard just fine.

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