BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 8 in D minor.
Nathan Milstein, violinist; London Philharmonic Orch/Sir Adrian Boult, cond.

ALLEGRO FILMS DVD A 06CN D (2 disks) TT: 225 min.

JACQUELINE DU PRÉ (Mendelssohn: Song without Words in D, Op. 109/Granados/Cassado: Intermezzo from Goyescas. BENJAMIN BRITTEN (piano) & PETER PEARS (tenor) (music of Bridge and Mozart/traditional works). ALFRED DELLER (Music of Rosseter, Blow, Purcell & Anon). SIR JOHN BARBIROLLI (Dvorák: Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 - Hallé Orch). JOHN OGDON (Liszt: Après une lecture de Dante). SOLOMON (Schubert: Impromptu No. 4 in A flat). DAME MYRA HESS (Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C BWV 564. Beethoven: Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110.
EMI CLASSICS DVD VIDEO DVB 38846192 TT: 100 min.

Here are three important historic DVD issues. Christopher Hupen's documentary devoted to his friend Nathan Milstein is extraordinary. In addition to the documentary, the two-disk set includes Milstein's final concert given in Stockholm in 1986 when the master violinist was 82 and already had performed publicly 73 years. Because of an accident, this turned out to be Milstein's final public concert; he died in London in December 1992, ten days before his 89th birthday. The "Portrait" is a lengthy informal dialogue in which Milstein recalls his association with many leading musicians of the past including Glazunov, Auer, Piatigorsky, Horowitz and Rachmaninoff, including as well insightful conversations with Pinchas Zukerman. There are many examples of Milstein's superb artistry including his definitive performance of Bach's Chaconne in D minor. Surtitles are provided in German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Finnish; it's unfortunate they also didn't include English—even though the interview is in English, Milstein's speech sometimes is difficult to understand. EMI Classics' BBC film featuring Milstein playing Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic recorded in Royal Festival Hall February 6, 1972 is a major video document. Olympian artistry from the master violinist at his peak; the only debit is audio quality—Milstein's sound is very distant. This DVD has another feature: Sir Adrian Boult's performance of a specialty of his, Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 8, from a Royal Festival Hall concert October 18, 1972. According to the back cover of this release, there is an "authoritative essay and rare bonus footage." However, three different DVD players can't locate this—but liner notes say you can access the essay on EMI's website: I visited this site and could find no essay—but there was some incorrect/imcomplete information; the Symphony No. 8 is identified as by "Ralph Vaughan," and the performance date for it is wrong. Who's watching the store?

"Legendary British Performers" contains some treasures indeed. We see a very young Jacqueline du Pré recorded in 1962, Benjamin Britten accompanying tenor Peter Pears recorded in 1964, counter-tenors Alfred and Mark Deller recorded in Paris in 1972, Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Hallé Orchestra recorded in 1962, pianist John Ogdon recorded in 1961, pianist Solomon recorded in 1956, and Dame Myra Hess playing Bach and Beethoven recorded in 1954. Camera work is basic, sometimes too close up (does anyone really want to see Alfred Deller's teeth?), the mono sound conveys the performances well enough, although piano tone in the Myra Hess recordings is unsteady. It is a pleasure to watch Barbirolli's animated, and effective, conducting although, oddly, during this performance of Scherzo capriccioso, the harpist is center stage rather like a soloist, and the camera often is on her. This DVD does contain the "authoritative," if short, essay, as advertised.

R.E.B. (May 2007)