When I was young, there were three pianists whom I always hoped to be able to hear in person, Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz, and Arthur Rubenstein. I finally heard all three, Horowitz only once. These were, of course, the most high-profile pianists living in the United States in the post-WW II years, and all three had prominent recording contracts to keep their names available.
I don’t suppose I have heard these (1962–63) recordings for 30 or more years, and revisiting old pleasures can be a disappointing experience. My youthful enthusiasm anointed Serkin as the ultimate keeper of Beethoven’s flame and relegated Rubinstein to the category of a good show. Time and experience tempered these judgments, as they must, andRead more hearing Rubinstein live several times certainly gave nuance to what a “good show” ought to be. I think what finally did it was letting myself hear Rubinstein’s astonishing sense of line and delicacy of touch, which drew rather than propelled us through even the well-known bars of the “Moonlight” Sonata. I have always admired the way his playing makes each note suggest there is an obvious following one that will appear in its due course. Above all, in his playing there is the sense of the sheer pleasure he takes in it. By this I do not mean he is self-indulgent or willful or careless. On the contrary. Though I recall him as a good showman and though there was the occasional fluff, I always had the sense that when he sat down at the piano, Beethoven came first.
The sonatas here are the “warhorses” of the repertoire, of course, and there is good reason for that: they are sturdy stuff. But how many actually play the triplets of the first movement of No. 14 “with a most delicate touch,” as Beethoven asks of the whole movement, and make them go somewhere? How many can? Rubinstein does so and uses that to create an urgency only released by the arrival of the tune in m. 10, a melody, in turn, urged toward its resolution in m. 22. What sets Rubinstein apart for me is that he does this not by driving us through the music but by drawing us along with it: this is not Bach à la Beethoven. This is not to say that Rubinstein is all delicacy: subtlety need not be understated, nor passion overplayed. There is fire enough when called for, as in the last movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata, for example. In 29/6, James Reel called this playing “poetic,” and we have need of such poetry today.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson Reviewing earlier release Read less
Not to be missed!April 29, 2015By T. Hanson (Lake Linden, MI)See All My Reviews"It's easy to forget that a pianist in his 70s recorded these masterpieces: so much passion and dexterity is evident in the performances. 75 minutes of music; excellent sound quality; and unparalleled artistry. Choosing to purchase this disc ought to be the easiest decision of your day. (Doubt my recommendation? Consult the Penguin Guide to classical recordings and you will see that it awards this disc a coveted "rosette.")"Report Abuse
Rubinstein's straightforward BeethovenDecember 16, 2011By T. Drake (South Euclid, OH)See All My Reviews"Rubinstein knew all 32 of Beethoven's Sonatas by heart, but in public and on record, limited himself to the most popular half dozen or so. The four Sonatas on this CD -- originally recorded at RCA Italiana Studios in the early 1960s -- were, with the five Concertos, the core of the pianist's Beethoven repertoire. Rubinstein's approach to the Pathetique is characteristic of his Beethoven playing: Tempos are sensible, avoiding extremes of speed or slowness; phrasing is devoid of artifice; pedalling is sparser than Beethoven's written indications (but many of Beethoven's contemoparies claim Beethoven over-pedalled); repeats are generally taken. Some purists will object how Rubinstein plays the first movement ornaments in the "Italian" rather than the "German" manner, but there has been no conclusive evidence either way on the "correct" manner to handle them (Beethoven probably didn't care anyway). This CD contains Rubinstein's only recording of the inescapable Moonlight Sonata. He performed it in public several times during the 1962-1963 season, and then dropped it from his repertoire. The first movement is played simply, even a little dryly, as is the second movement. But Rubinstein lets loose in the Finale, with a breakneck tempo and stark dynamic contrasts, bringing the work to a rousing close. Nobody else could hit a piano that hard and still create such a beautiful sound. The Appassionata was a favorite of Rubinstein's. He featured it in his earliest concert performances, played it almost to the end of his career, and recorded it three times. This recording is more successful than the previous two (the first was almost comically slapdash). Max Wilcox, the producer of the original recording, has noted that this was one of the few times Rubinstein became hampered in the recording studio, and many takes were required before Rubinstein was satisfied. But one could never guess that from listening to the resulting performance, it is totally organic and betrays no hint of being spliced together. The performance of the Les Adieux Sonata is more reflective, mellow than Rubinstein's early mono version. The first movement is more a coherent statement of the work's structure than a portrait of a friend's Farewell. The Absence movement is not as colorful as, say, Kempff's; nor is the Return as joyous as Rudolf Serkin's version (but at least Rubinstein doesn't stamp the pedal). Of course, there are many recordings of the more popular Sonatas one would want for one's collection, including Serkin's, Kempff's, and even Horowitz's - not to mention those by more contemporary pianists which I personally do not find interesting. And there are a number of fine complete sets available. But for a straight, uncluttered approach to the music, Rubinstein can be heartily recommended. RCA's remastering has a bit more dynamic range and impact than the original LP."Report Abuse