Nathan Milstein-In Portrait: Some Memories of a Quiet Magician (NTSC)

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Released 28-Mar-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Trailer-Allegro Films Presents
Music Video-The Kreutzer Sonata
Music Video-Nathan Milstein and the Bach Chaconne
Trailer-Allegro Molto: Some Artists Affectionately Remembered
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production ?
Running Time 113:40 (Case: 225)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Christopher Nupen
Allegro Films
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Nathan Milstein
Pinchas Zukerman
Georges Pludermacher
Thérèse Milstein
Yuri Nagai
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual-Secure Clip
RPI $46.95 Music Johann Sebastian Bach
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Pablo Sarasate

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This two-disc set contains a documentary about one of the great violinists of the twentieth century, Nathan Milstein, made by filmmaker and friend Christopher Nupen. Nupen has made many documentaries about classical music, notably with Jacqueline du Pre, Daniel Barenboim, Andrés Segovia and Itzhak Perlman among others, generally focusing more on the artist than the music. Nupen had some difficulty persuading Milstein to appear in what he calls his "portrait film", as Milstein had taken to heart his mother's advice that seeking publicity would taint his art. But in July 1986 Milstein relented and aside from several interviews a concert in Stockholm was filmed, which turned out to be his final recital.

    The main programme is a two-part documentary called Nathan Milstein-Master of Invention: Some Memories of a Quiet Magician. Both were made for German television though they were not both shown on the same channel and the audio language is English.

    The programme is basically a biographical study peppered with excerpts from the Swedish concert. The first part (53:59) tells the story of Milstein's life, from his youth as a student of Leopold Auer (where the other students included Jascha Heifetz no less), an early encounter with Feodor Chaliapin which affected him greatly, his departure and exile from Russia and his subsequent career - glossed over - up to his Kennedy Centre Award in 1987. Several interviews with Nupen and fellow violinist Pinchas Zukerman are spliced together with photos, but the only performance footage is from that last recital.

    In the second part (59:41), which has a slightly cobbled-together feel, we learn more about Milstein's friendships with Vladimir Horowitz, Gregor Piatigorsky and Sergei Rachmaninov and his early studies with Auer and Eugène Ysaÿe. Milstein's third wife Thérèse reveals how they met, and Milstein talks about his transcriptions of works for violin, which was all he was able to do musically after an injury to his left hand in 1987 ended his fiddling career.

    The best of these kind of documentaries tend to leave you with an feeling of being uplifted. This one did not leave me with this feeling, though it is generally interesting and made with care. Milstein was a simple soul so there is little controversial or dramatic about his life, at least in the telling here. His first two marriages are barely mentioned, for example. It is certainly a worthy project and the only detailed visual record of Milstein the man, so it is valuable on that count. Some time ago I reviewed an EMI Classic Archives disc of television performances saved for posterity, and the same source has just released another DVD of the artist, so there is a reasonable amount of concert footage now in the market.

    The two parts of the documentary are included on the first disc in this set, the second disc having two complete works from the final recital.

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Transfer Quality


    As the main film was made for television in the 1980s, you would not expect this to be in widescreen, and it is not. It is in the original aspect ratio of 1.29:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced, though the menus and introductions by the director are widescreen enhanced. It is in NTSC format.

    As a film made for television it appears to have been shot on video. While this means there are no film artefacts, the visual quality doesn't really bear being blown up on a big screen, and would undoubtedly look better on a television set. The level of detail is limited by the technology of the time, and this shows with a noticeable fuzziness and lack of clarity.

    There are various video artefacts, such as a slight haloing which may or may not be edge enhancement, some noise and occasional analogue video tracking errors. Cross-colouration, aliasing and moire can be seen, plus the concert footage has low level noise in the black backgrounds as well as comet trails. Despite this I would not class the video as poor, as these sort of issues are inherent in older video recordings.

    Optional subtitles are provided in several languages, though not in English. This is unfortunate as the aged Milstein (some of the interviews were done when he was 85) still had a thick Russian accent, and his slightly fractured English is sometimes difficult to understand. Sometimes I had to switch the German subtitles on to work out a name or place mentioned.

    Disc one is dual-layered, but there is no layer change during any of the programmes on this disc. Disc two is RSDL-formatted with the layer change occurring at 12:33 during the Kreutzer Sonata, between the first and second movements. The layer change is noticeable but not distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Again because of the vintage of the recording, the audio is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and not in any surround format. The cover erroneously states that the audio is Linear PCM 2.0, but none of the tracks on the disc are in this format.

    While the dialogue is audible, as mentioned above it is sometime difficult to understand what Milstein is saying. There are no such troubles with Nupen's voice, which comes across clearly even though he seems further from the microphone.

    There is some distortion of the dialogue, with sibilance on both voices and a slight hiss at times. The musical excerpts fare better, and are well recorded with a good range and substance. The violin tends to sound a little hard in the upper registers.

    Stereo effects are limited, with the voices in the interviews often coming from different sides of the audio image. The music is clearly stereo as well, but the instruments are placed in centre stage.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Introduction and Audio

    The main menu appears after a brief animated introduction with some music. There appears to be a glitch with the menu on Disc One. In the Films menu when I selected the second part of the documentary, instead of playing this track the DVD simply stops. If I press Play the trailer on this disc starts to play.

Disc One:

Trailer-Allegro Films Presents (2:20)

    This trailer contains short excerpts from several of Nupen's films, with du Pre, Barenboim, Perlman and Zubin Mehta, amongst others.

Introductions by Christopher Nupen (8:32)

    These extras are in widescreen and are 16x9 enhanced. Each of the parts of the documentary has its own introduction. In the first (6:32) Nupen discusses his friendship with Milstein and the difficulties he had in persuading his subject to appear on film. In the second (2:00) he talks about why the second part was made and how it ended up on a different TV channel.

Disc Two:

Introductions by Christopher Nupen (6:34)

    Nupen provides introductions to each of the musical pieces from the concert (3:48 and 1:01), plus he also introduces the long trailer of his other films (1:45).

The Kreutzer Sonata (35:05)

    A complete performance of Beethoven's violin sonata is preceded by footage of Milstein arriving at the concert hall and preparing for the concert. A fine performance of the work with piano played by Milstein's long time accompanist Georges Pludermacher. In the infrequent wide shots of the auditorium there is a pink vertical line at the extreme right of screen. This probably would not be visible on a regular TV.

Nathan Milstein and the Bach Chaconne (21:09)

    This is one movement of the Partita in D Minor for solo violin which seems to be played as an encore to the recital. The performance is preceded by about six minutes of interview footage of Milstein in 1989.

Trailer-Allegro Molto: Some Artists Affectionately Remembered (38:33)

    This is a long trailer which contains highlights from the many films that Nupen has made. There's footage from films with Barenboim, du Pre, Perlman, Zukerman and Segovia, a young and chubby Plácido Domingo, Vladimir Ashkenazy, a two part Sibelius biography as well as the present release. Some parts, such as the Evgeny Kissin concert, are in letterboxed widescreen.


    A twenty-page booklet with detailed track listings and an essay repeated in several languages.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as I can tell the content of this DVD is identical to those released in other countries around the world.


    A well-made and flattering portrait of a unusually modest subject, one of the best if by no means the best known violinists of the recording age.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    A nice selection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
English subtitles - penguin (there is no bio)