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James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, May 2009

What an experience this is! The legendary Rubinstein in a filmed recital largely of his imperial Chopin, the composer he’s most associated with. The discreet camera puts you about arm’s length from his left shoulder for most of it, wisely not changing shots too often. The sound, while not capturing the wealth of colour his voluminous CD catalogue so often does, is generally good despite some distortion in the encores. He enters and leaves the platform of the Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall with a spring in the step, his frame surprisingly small; the warm glow of his smile bonding to the unison-clapping faithful. All of this framing the playing, which is simply of its own elevated world.

The F-Sharp minor Polonaise opens the formal part of the program; the “Heroic” Polonaise closes. Both are stunning, and roof raising, years dropping off Rubinstein’s 77 as he attacks the music’s hyper-elements like a cougar. The Barcarolle and all else show the marvelous inevitability of his famous rubato, whose pulls and tugs sound completely intuitive with never the sense of being externally applied. The Piano Sonata No. 2, a group of Études, the Nocturne in D flat and the Waltz in A minor are treasureable for Rubinstein’s inimitable balance of grand manner and intimacy, that singing tone once heard never forgotten.

This is the Rubinstein of legend, and not to be missed.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, May 2009

Artur Rubinstein’s Moscow concert on October 1, 1964 has been restored. The pianist, although 78, was still a great performer, as can be heard on this all-Chopin recital, with varied encores by other composers. Decent mono sound.

Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, May 2009

DVD of the Month

A rare and valuable film of an artist playing completely in his element

Considering his celebrity, longevity and huge studio recording legacy, there is very little film of Rubinstein in concert. Indeed, this is the only full solo recital I can recall and as such is immensely valuable, not least because the printed programme is devoted entirely to the composer with whom he was most closely associated and because, fine as are most of his studio recordings, Rubinstein played with a greater freedom and daring when in front of an audience.

The recital, minus the three non-Chopin encores, was released on a Revelation CD in 1996. The film of the occasion, preserved in the vaults of the Russian State television archives for nearly 50 years, provides a vivid reminder of this great artist's idiosyncrasies—the dignified, immobile posture, the expressionless face and the little tug at his lapels before the start of each item.

The playing, of course, is heart-warming, the kind that can absorb the odd fluff, though the memory lapse in the Scherzo of the Sonata is disconcerting (he has to make an unwritten repeat before ad libbing his way into the Trio). Everything seems so inevitable and right, whether in the caressing phrases of the Barcarolle or the bravura of the A flat Polonaise, the inevitable trademark conclusion to any Rubinstein recital. Aficionados will relish his only known performance of the Aeolian Harp Study, Op 25 No l.

The bonuses are two short (1’45”) silent films of excerpts from two etudes shot in slow motion in Canada in 1928.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, May 2009

Rare indeed are the truly inspired moments in a performer’s career that are captured by recording. Rarer still are those captured by both the microphone and the camera. This was one such moment in time for pianist Arthur Rubinstein, his recital of October 1, 1964, at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Whatever it was that inspired him on that particular evening we may never know for sure, but I saw Rubinstein on one such inspired evening in Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1970s, and so I am glad to have this memory-enhancer in my collection.

There are, and probably will always be, a great many classical music-lovers who have an aversion to Chopin’s bel canto miniatures as being too Romantic for their tastes. I personally dislike Chopin played too foppishly, and so have always gravitated towards pianists such as Cortot, Gieseking, Lipatti, Rubinstein, Deyanova, and Perahia who give the music a little more backbone. I suppose I was lucky to grow up in an era when Rubinstein was still a forceful, living presence on the musical scene; for all of Deyanova’s and Perahia’s excellence in this music (not to mention the superb Chinese pianist Sa Chen), no one so completely dominates this composer’s style in our time as he did then.

The camerawork on this DVD is competent. At the very start of the Polonaise in F♯ Minor, we are treated to a hanging portrait of Chopin in the Moscow hall before moving down to the pianist, unusually (for him) so fully focused that he sways gently in and out from the keyboard as he pours every ounce of his frame and psyche into his playing. Forte passages explode with a power reminiscent of Horowitz but with much finer taste; there is rubato galore in this and the other performances in the recital, even more than he generally indulged in on sound recordings. Quiet moments almost seem to be interludes for regaining his strength, the prowl of a panther as he sizes up his prey and judges the best moment to erupt from the underbrush and explode. If this sounds a little reckless, be assured that it is not; it is terribly exciting, because Rubinstein, to paraphrase jazz pianist Lennie Tristano, has found that moment when his fingers hit the keys and they go “Pow!” right into the bottom of the keyboard. Rhythms here have that odd, quirky irregularity that is necessary in the presentation of Polish music. Rubinstein almost sounds as if he is composing these works at the piano as he plays.

For me, the two most interesting moments in the recital were the Piano Sonata No. 2 and the Barcarolle. The shapely, yet post-modern, interpretation of the sonata by Dinu Lipatti is all but forgotten as Rubinstein enters the fray after an uncharacteristic toss of the head and squeezing his hands together. The opening passages are dramatic but not ferocious, yet the bass passages, again, have the prowl of the panther about them. Mood, as well as thematic material, is thus set in stark contrast, simultaneously bringing out the work’s structure while paradoxically making it sound more modern by destabilizing those very elements on which it is built. In other words, this is no prefabricated piece that the pianist spools out like so much musical thread, but taffy pushed and pulled into shape to make a coherent whole. The Scherzo even has a few missed notes in it—horror of horrors to all who insist on technical perfection on their recordings!—but I’ve never heard it played with this much freedom, not knowing exactly how he is going to play the next phrase.

There is a long pause before he begins the Marcia funebre, taken at a remarkably slow tempo, and a longer-than-usual pause before the soft middle section in major. His tempo distensions here remind me of his contemporary recordings of the nocturnes and, appropriately, some of the camerawork here focuses on his face in rapt concentration. By contrast, the concluding Presto erupts like a volcano of sound. The pianist stand up afterwards, takes a short bow, and walks offstage; when he comes back out, two bouquets of flowers are thrown his way!

My gold standard in the Barcarolle has always been Walter Gieseking’s Columbia recording, with its smooth legato and deceivingly “easy” gradations of volume. Rubinstein is not quite as smooth, but his interpretation has unusual breadth and depth; again, one never quite knows how the next phrase is going to sound until one hears it.

One could go on and on about the glories of this recital, but I think you get the point. His performances of the etudes, here, lie somewhere between Arrau and Cziffra; the Waltz in A Minor has a swagger that others, for all their integrity of intent, never quite capture; the “Heroic” Polonaise in A♭ has seldom sounded more like the rush of a river, starting as an undercurrent but building to a crescendo roar. In the staccato passage just before the middle section, with its running bass lines, he attacks the keyboard so ferociously that you can hear the piano strings ring as if struck with a hammer. And again, he misses a couple of notes. Do you care? I don’t, and neither did the Russian audience, which practically explodes with pent-up joy.

The non-Chopin pieces are played in an entirely different manner, more tempo-strict if no less fascinating. Debussy’s “Ondine” and Schumann’s “Des Abends” are shapely and delicate, Villa-Lobos’s “Polichinelle” is a flurry of notes, perfectly placed, which indicates just how good Rubinstein could be in more modern music when he chose to perform it.

The bonus footage of two etudes (actually, excerpts running under two minutes each) from Montreal in 1928 is only interesting insofar as it shows Rubinstein at a time when, by his own admission, he paid less attention to the presentation of music and more to impressing audiences with flash, because that’s what sold. Being silent, there is little more to learn from them than watching his fingers fly over the keyboard. It’s in fairly good shape for its age.

If you have no aversion to Chopin, this DVD is a must in any collection—along with Cortot, Moisevitch, and Cziffra, in fact, possibly the basis of any collection of piano greats of the past.

Jed Distler, March 2009

Arthur Rubinstein’s 1964 recital in the Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall was preserved in the Russian State television archives, and now is released for the first time on home video. The all-Chopin program documents the 77-year-old pianist at the height of his musical maturity, with his big technique, ravishing tone, and awesome sense of projection operating at full capacity. Young performers can learn from Rubinstein’s aristocratic platform manner, centered body language, and effortless coordination. More significantly, Rubinstein’s interpretations convey a sense of risk and daring that largely elude his meticulous stereo studio recordings.

You notice this in his larger-than-life Polonaise performances, and in the generous yet judiciously proportioned rubatos with which he imbues lyrical episodes (the Impromptu, the Nocturne, and the A minor Waltz, for example). The pianist seems a bit unsettled at the Sonata Scherzo’s outset, where he cleverly improvises his way out of a memory lapse just before the Trio section (the superior-sounding audio-only recording of this concert, issued as part of RCA’s Rubinstein Edition, contains a spliced-in correction). I especially love how gorgeously Rubinstein stretches the Barcarolle coda’s phrases for maximum harmonic tension and poetic impact.

The non-Chopin encores also represent Rubinstein at his soulful best, leaving the pianist’s adoring Russian public and this reviewer well satisfied. Silent excerpts of Chopin Etudes filmed in 1928 for educational purposes comprise the skimpy DVD “Extras”.

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8:49:55 PM, 5 May 2015
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