The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (20): They said it couldn’t be done

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (20): They said it couldn’t be done


norman lebrecht

April 06, 2020

Chopin on the violin.

Nothing was beyond Milstein.


  • Robert Levin says:

    With the passing of Nathan Milstein in 1992, the era of great Russian violin playing came to an abrupt end. He was one of the 20th century’s greatest exponents of the violin, and although there are many fine violinists appearing before the public today, few, if any, begin to approach the purity, simplicity and elegance of Milstein’s patrician art. He was placed on this earth to play the violin — he was the consummate fiddle player.

  • John Holmes says:

    I think it works better on the violin than on the piano. This long, sustained tune would be nice sung as Chopin was a big lover of bel canto.

  • Ricardo says:

    Thanks for this. Beautiful, soulful and pristine playing.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    I don’t know who might be the “they” who said it couldn’t be done, but Kreisler arranged a mazurka, Heifetz a nocturne, and there may be others from that era a little research could turn up. There have been some since, most surely.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Steven has it right – Chopin on violin is a very old tradition going back to Sarasate, Wilhelmj, Auer and other 19th century greats. It takes up a full column in Margaret Farish’s “String Music in Print.” And I seem to recall Arthur Conan Doyle, speaking through Sherlock Holmes, recounted Lady Neruda (Wilma Norman-Neruda) excelling in a piece by Chopin.

      I think it was Ernest Newman who once wrote something to the effect that Chopin’s music sounds so much better when played on violin that it is astounding that Chopin himself was not aware of that fact.

      Indeed Ruggiero Ricci recorded an entire CD of Chopin Nocturnes arranged for violin and piano, including this marvelous Milstein transcription but also some by himself, Prihoda, Huber and other names (One-Eleven label, URS 90010). Margaret Campbell’s book “The Great Violinists” quotes Ricci as saying that keyboard music played on violin is a great way to build technique, that Milstein agreed, and that Milstein and Ricci, finding themselves on the same train, entertained themselves by playing through the Chopin etudes on violin, all of which they knew by heart.

      But it is this Milstein arrangement that has become a favorite of violinists. There are many fine recordings but why look elsewhere when there is Milstein himself? This particular recording of the Chopin arrangement is from 78s. Milstein recorded it again in more modern sound. Both recordings feature that perfect Milstein poise and exquisite beauty of tone and touch. His version of a Consolation by Liszt is similarly masterful.

  • Westfan says:

    A few have been transcribed for flute as well.

  • Robin Tunnah says:


  • Edgar Self says:

    I heard Milstein play Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp minor before hearing it from any pianist. Much later Pletnev’s earlier record of it took first place among the pianists.

    I have to mention Kreisler’s arrangement of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in E minor as anothe winner. Gypsy violinists in Buda-Pesth and elsewhere must make a good part of their living from it, even Josef Szigeti among them.

    I heard Vasa Prihoda once in recital, in Dallas. Unfortunately he didn’t play Chopin or Paganini’s “Nel cor piu” variations, which Leonid kogan burns into You tube immortality.

    Milstein’s record with his boyhood friend Vladimir Horowitz of Brahms’s D-minor sonata makes me wish their trio with Gregor Piatigorsky had left us something besides their photo on bicycles in Italy.