FROM RUSSIA TO THE WEST: The Musical Memoirs and Reminiscences of Nathan Milstein by Nathan & Solomon Volkov Milstein

FROM RUSSIA TO THE WEST: The Musical Memoirs and Reminiscences of Nathan Milstein

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Master violinist Milstein, now 86, offers slivers of autobiography but mostly anecdotes and impressions of the music greats he has known--in a lively, opinionated, occasionally irascible grab bag. The early chapters have the color and intensity of heartfelt memoir: Milstein recalls his comfortable Odessa childhood, his studies in Petersburg with the legendary Leopold Auer, and his youthful tours around Revolutionary Russia with soulmate Vladimir Horowitz (who played ""with extraordinary brio, but alas sometimes too loud""). Then, however, once Milstein and Horowitz have moved to the West (circa 1925), the book becomes a collection of portraits rather than a personal story. (Two wives are mentioned--barely--in passing.) Violinist-composer Eugene Ysaye was a blank as a teacher, but ""his presence alone could be an inspiration--that overflowing bulk brought into motion by music !"" Rachmaninoff was Milstein's hero as man and musician, while Stravinsky was a great composer but a disaster as a human being: insincere, ""evasive as a snake,"" jealous of performers, and possessed by a ""control mania."" Fritz Kreisler was ""adorable,"" Furtwangler was unfairly branded a Nazi, and George Balanchine was both awesome genius and down-to-earth friend. Horowitz's playing was ""a volcanic eruption""; as a personality ""he could be many people; he always surprised."" (But, aside from disputing one of the sources in Glenn Plaskin's biography, Milstein offers little new insight into the various Horowitz enigmas.) And, throughout, opinions--political as well as musical-are freely dispensed: Soviet virtuosos like Lazar Berman are ""phenomenal technicians but second-rate musicians""; conductors are overrated, often unnecessary; James Galway takes ""insane tempi, which totally perverts the music""; Gorbachev hasn't really changed the Soviet Union much (Milstein's an unabashed conservative); and the Russian Tea Room is ""a catastrophe now--like eating at Howard Johnson's."" With irreverent glimpses of dozens of others (from Dali to Schoenberg) and lots about the violin repertoire: a breezy, jaunty miscellany for music-lovers, though short on autobiographical drama or feeling.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1990
Publisher: Henry Holt