Stravinsky’s “Mavra”: A Neoclassical Comic Opera in One Act

Igor Stravinsky’s one act comic opera, Mavra, is delightfully intimate, colorful, and whimsical. Unfolding in a mere 30 minutes, the opera features two arias, a duet, and a quartet, performed by a cast of four characters. Based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem, The Little House in Kolomna, it has been described as a “satire of petit-bourgeois manners.” The libretto was written by Boris Kochno, a young assistant to the dance impresario, Serge Diaghilev. Set in …

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Nathan Milstein Plays Mendelssohn: 1962 Chicago Symphony Telecast

Nathan Milstein (1903-1992) was one of the most elegant and innately gifted violinists of the twentieth century. The biographer Boris Schwarz called his playing, “a rare combination of classical taste and technical perfection,” adding that “the effortless nonchalance with which he achieves sophisticated technical feats is amazing.” Born in Odessa, Milstein moved to St. Petersburg at the age of 11 where he became one of the last students of the legendary Leopold …

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Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Milstein, Heifetz

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major has long held a cherished position in the musical canon. Yet, the value of this popular work was not always appreciated. Following the premiere on December 4, 1881, performed by the Russian violinist Adolph Brodsky with Hans Richter leading the Vienna Philharmonic, the influential critic Eduard Hanslick wrote savagely, “Tchaikovsky is surely no ordinary talent, but rather, an inflated one…lacking discrimination and taste.” He continued, “The same …

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Philippe Quint’s Unedited Tchaikovsky

In September, Russian-American violinist Philippe Quint released a recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, accompanied by conductor Martin Panteleev and the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. If you already own a thousand recordings of the Tchaikovsky, there are good reasons to also include this CD in your collection. Quint offers a distinctive and introspective performance, which emphasizes a rounded, singing tone, even in the most difficult passages of the first movement’s cadenza. He also …

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The Artistry of Nathan Milstein

Let’s finish out the week with a few recordings of Nathan Milstein (1904-1992), one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary violinists. Infused with elegance, style and thoughtful musicianship, Milstein’s playing never sounds dated. These recordings demonstrate his ability to draw out the most ringing tone from the violin, using the speed and energy of the bow. The purity of his intonation and subtle, well controlled vibrato remain impressive. Milstein, who was born …

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Hiro Kurosaki Plays Handel

You may be familiar with classic recordings of George Frideric Handel’s Violin Sonatas by Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, Henryk Szeryng and Szymon Goldberg. For the most part, they’re all Romantic performances, emphasizing a large, singing tone and lots of vibrato. For a slightly different take, add to the list an excellent 2003 Baroque recording by violinist Hiro Kurosaki and harpsichordist William Christie. No one knows if Handel actually wrote all seven of the sonatas on this disk. A …

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Paganini’s Catchy Tune

It’s a simple and catchy melody…so memorable and ripe for development that, for over 200 years, composers haven’t been able to stop using it as the inspiration for an unending stream of variations. Set in A minor, the theme of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 bounces between tonic and dominant (scale degrees I and V), before entering a downward sequence which brings the melody home. A series of variations follow, which almost push the …

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