Notes and Editorial Reviews
This black and white footage comes from a concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall given during a tour by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its formation. The audience is bedecked in finery, the men largely in bow ties, the women in furs, very ostentatious jewellery and elegant dresses.
The orchestra was directed by Zubin Mehta and the guest soloist was Arthur Rubinstein in Chopin’s F minor Concerto, which is all we see of the concert, this being a Rubinstein release. We are not told, but it’s possible, that the rest of the concert was not filmed by the BBC. It was, in fact, often the case that only one work was filmed.
Mehta’s beat is strict and military. He looks
moody, and like a young Leonard Bernstein – maybe he was modelling the Bernsteinian quiff. Rubinstein remains snowy-headed and taciturn. His pianism is elegant, relaxed, unshowy and beautifully controlled. Several camera angles cover the stage, allowing one access to the keyboard as well as to a ‘front-on’ view of the musicians and these camera shots are apposite, and sensitively accomplished. There’s applause at the end of the first movement. At this time the orchestra sported some highly identifiable and distinctive wind players – the clarinets, the bassoon in particular – but though they are constantly in motion, Rubinstein is a study in facial passivity, in much the same way as was Benno Moiseiwitsch.
Maybe the clarinets are a touch flat in the finale but the music is still richly characterised, and there’s plenty of colour and vivacity. I watched Uchida in a filmed concert last night, and her moth-like fluttering is so at odds with the dignity of Rubinstein that they might as well be espousing different professions. He plays as an encore the A flat major Polonaise, with characteristic élan and drama. To watch Rubinstein in concert in this way, in so canonic a repertoire as this, is a privilege.
The second part of the DVD is a filmed interview between Rubinstein and the young Bernard Levin, from an Omnibus TV programme of 1 December 1968. The conversation lasts 51 minutes, and the music portion 40, so you will appreciate that there is more talk than play in this release. But Rubinstein is no less fascinating as a talker than as a musician, or only marginally less so, and I found this segment unmissable. He addresses the question of his date of birth – 1887 or 1889 - with a tall-tale sounding anecdote about evasion of military service. He reminds us that Joachim acted as a surrogate protectorate, forbidding wunderkind exploitation, that he later became London’s ‘Society Pianist’ in the frivolous teens of the century – or that, at least, was how it looked to an outsider. We hear of his love of sport and films, of his playboy reputation, his disdain for ‘tradition’. And then there are his aperçu; the ‘classicism’ of Chopin, the best audiences always being women; how connoisseurs at concerts are nothing less than ‘detectives’. Throughout, Levin is wide-eyed, sometimes gauche, and even oddly shallow. That’s not how I remember him, so maybe he was overawed.
Production values here are strong. This Rubinstein film is, for me, unmissable.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53, “Heroic”
Artur Rubinstein, piano
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta, conductor
Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, London on 9 June 1968.
- Rubinstein in conversation with Bernard Levin
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 B/W
Sound format: PCM Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 40 mins (concert) + 51 mins (conversation)
No. of DVDs: 1
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