Notes and Editorial Reviews
A treasurable disc, offering lasting virtues, and performances of subtlety, warmth and humanity.
Much as Arthur Rubinstein enjoyed making recordings, he loved to play in public even more, and his extant live performances usually communicate more verve, sweep, and joie de vivre than his later studio efforts. A previously unreleased live Brahms Second concerto from Zurich on May 23, 1966 is a case in point. To my mind, this performance splits the difference between the impetuous, skittish qualities of Rubinstein's 1958 studio version under Josef Krips and the stricter metrics characterizing the pianist's impressive yet relatively stolid 1972 Ormandy/Philadelphia remake.
Rubinstein's large hands grasp Brahms'
unwieldy textures with the utmost ease and eloquence, from the first movement's burly chordal passages to the finale's scampering coda. In turn, Christoph von Dohnányi provides a marvelously alert, supportive, and full-throated orchestral framework. The (unnamed) third-movement cello soloist plays with subtle freedom and a gorgeous tone to match.
Previously unreleased solo pieces from Rubinstein's inspired April 20, 1963 Nijmegen recital (type Q11948 in Search Reviews) fill out the disc. Brahms' B minor Rhapsody soars and flows with far more poetry and controlled freedom than in Rubinstein's studio versions. Similarly, the Op. 76 No. 2 Capriccio is less square and studio-bound with an audience present, while the Chopin D-flat Nocturne and C-sharp minor Waltz feature heartfelt turns of phrase and rubatos that their stereo studio counterparts only hint at. As for the concluding Ritual Fire Dance, I can't tell who enjoys those extroverted upward glissandos more: myself, the audience, or Rubinstein. Probably the latter! The engineering typifies German Radio's high standards in the 1960s. Warmly recommended. [2/21/2011]
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
I was talking to a well known critic recently who told me that he thought that Rubinstein ‘was an especially bad pianist’. Some critics have binary minds: A is good; B is bad, and so on. I doubt anything in this disc can serve to redirect a closed mind or one prone to melodramatic flourishes. Still, it should.
This is a truly beautiful performance of the B flat major concerto. It’s never been issued before, which makes its appearance in ICA Classics livery, ex WDR Cologne broadcasts, all the more valuable. Naturally there will be those who point to Rubinstein’s discography and note that, in addition to the fast and loose 1929 78 set with Albert Coates, we already have the 1958 Krips and the later 1972 Ormandy studio recordings. So indeed we do. But when a performance is as convincing as this one, and so well taped too, then one could wish for a legion of live performances from Rubinstein.
I worried that his first entry was too loud, but my ear soon adjusted and this despite the fact that the microphone is rather too close to the piano than is ideal for a really good balance. Almost immediately though one notices the excellent rapport between soloist and conductor. Rubinstein had known Christoph von Dohnányi’s father, so maybe that was a contributing reason – but I think rather that solid musicianship must have accounted for the notably fine ensemble, though in fairness one must note it’s not wholly watertight. Rubinstein’s sure sense of rubato is evident in the second movement, and the slow movement has a marvellous sense of chamber collaboration about it, not just the nobly restrained cello solo, or Rubinstein’s musing responses but later too, when the oboe, cello and piano entwine so wonderfully. The finale is galvanizing and outstanding too – pedants will note a few smudged passages, but the rest of us can listen to a performance of wonderful poise and purpose, at the end of which one feels both grateful, and happy.
The remainder of the programme comes from a solo recital Rubinstein gave in Nijmegen in 1963. Other items from this performance have been released before but this quintet of pieces is making its first ever appearance. He shows a commanding control over the rhetoric of Brahms’s Rhapsody, marrying passionate drama with reflective intimacy, but never at the expense of the music’s spine. Chopin’s Nocturne is possessed of texture and colour and the most subtle of rubati. The waltz is suffused with Rubinstein’s charm. After a brief announcement, in German, he launches into a truly daemonic rendition of de Falla’s
Ritual Fire Dance.
This brings the disc to a volcanic end. It’s a treasurable one, offering lasting virtues, and performances of subtlety, warmth and humanity.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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