Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 2.
Piano Concerto in A
Arthur Rubinstein (pn); André Cluytens, cond;
Franco Caracciolo, cond;
RAI SO Turin;
RAI SO Naples
ARTS ARCHIVES 43081, mono (79:39) Broadcast:
It is almost impossible to keep up with the recorded performances of Arthur Rubinstein in both of these pieces as he played them so many times and there are so many air-checks and other recordings of lesser quality out there. These originated from Italy in the early 1960s, and I will say right from the start that I am not one who relishes “historical” recordings of older vintage. Well, that’s not entirely true; there are a few that I cherish, but rarely would I recommend any monophonic reading as a primary choice for today’s listener. (One exception might be the Furtwängler reading of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony on DG.) This is mostly because I think that all of the old recordings—with a few exceptions—have been equaled or surpassed by those captured in modern or semi-modern sound.
The same will hold true for this disc under review. Rubinstein/Brahms always commands attention, for despite the fact that the pianist is lionized for his Chopin, Brahms remained his favorite composer his entire life. There are a number of preexisting recordings of this Concerto, his favorite, but the 1975 issue with Philadelphia and Ormandy has always remained my preference for its rich sense of autumnal warmth and bittersweet remembrance. The notes are not all there; face it, they never were for Rubinstein, an always-lazy pianist who realized his technical deficiencies midlife when he first heard archrival Horowitz. But the spirit often filled in for the pianist’s limitations, and that is why his recordings are still so beloved today. His Schumann was also greatly in demand and the Concerto a mainstay, but in general I have always found it much less convincing than the Brahms.
So it is on this disc, though I think the Schumann still very good, spirited and in possession of a quicksilver finesse that would abandon the pianist a few years hence. The Brahms is very nicely tailored, and the surprise to me is that both local Italian orchestras play as well as they do. The other side is the sound—this is the type of mono that spreads through the speakers cleanly and without distortion, and sounds very, very close to true stereo. At least after a few minutes the ears adjust and begin to trick the mind into thinking it really is a dual spread. My phobia against mono dissipated almost instantly and I did not miss true stereo. For me, that is saying a lot.
So historicists will definitely want this, Rubinstein fanatics will be getting some prize plums, and those willing to investigate will be most agreeably surprised.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano in A minor, Op. 54 by Robert Schumann
Artur Rubinstein (Piano)
Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Naples
Written: 1841-1845; Germany
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