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Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, December 2008

An English reviewer of the 1946 performance of the F minor concerto, quoted in Jonathan Summers’s excellent booklet notes, wrote perceptively that “you might feel that there is an absence of quiet, delicate playing. [Rubinstein]…takes a dashing view of the concerto, of the first movement especially, and scarcely anywhere is there any pianissimo ravishment. But it is a valid view and this virile performance, with some wonderful playing, held my attention all through with delight.” Virility is indeed the key concept here, I think, and I personally found this account something of a breath of fresh air, banishing even the slightest hint of over-sentimentality and revealing the concerto in a fresh coat of paint. 

The performance of the E minor concerto is rather less novel in approach though it has one quirky moment where Rubinstein gives the very opening phrase of the first movement a curious rhythmic snap—which I don’t, pace Mr Summers, detect to “exactly the same” extent in the subsequent 1961 re-recording. Nevertheless, this is another very fine performance, superbly conceived and executed. Contemporary critics had a few negative things to say about Alfred Wallenstein’s direction of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but I actually found that to be one of the recording’s great strengths. The conductor fully matches Rubinstein in strength and vigour and, in Mark Obert-Thorn’s expert restoration, the orchestra comes out sounding very well indeed, even allowing for the date of the performance. Initial pressings must have been rather odd because one English reviewer swore that he detected a saxophone in the orchestral mix! 

When wanting to listen to a Rubinstein account of these concertos in the future, I imagine, then, that it will almost certainly be this one—rather than the over-impulsive 1930s accounts or the comparatively stately traversals of his final “grand old man” phase—that I will be taking from the shelves with the greatest sense of pleasurable anticipation.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, December 2008

Jaw-dropping pianism, even if Chopin’s subtleties are sometimes swept aside

Complementing its Chopin release from Cortot [8.110612] and Moiseiwitsch [8.111118], Naxos now offers the first disc in a series devoted to Arthur Rubinstein’s recordings dating from the mid-a940s to the ‘50s. Mercifully uncut, unlike Rubinstein’s previous disc s of both concertos with Barbirolli, these are astonishing performances, occasionally, particularly in the F minor Concerto, content simply to astonish. Here there is an almost arrogant dismissal of all difficulties and a prima donna stance sometimes hard to square with some of Chopin’s more delicate and ornate confidences. In the scintillating coda Rubinstein takes his bravura to a spine-tingling edge, but in, for example, the Larghetto’s central storms there is a brusque, streamlined indifference to the music’s finer qualities. In the E minor Concerto, while recognisably the same pianist, Rubinstein is altogether more subtle, following his characteristic exuberance and extroversion with playing of a rapt magic and delicacy. The music may be sent smartly on its way by both conductor and soloist, but the patrician ease, nonchalant glitter and authority of Rubinstein’s playing are uniquely his to command. These are both extraordinary performances by an extraordinary pianist though of the two, the E minor Concerto is the more affecting. Mark Obert-Thorn’s restoration of the 1953 sound is a model of remastery though even he cannot make the 1946 F minor Concerto sound less than cramped.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2008

In the mid-1940’s Arthur Rubinstein began recording for the second time a cycle of Chopin’s piano music that he hoped would marry the youthful exuberance of his 1930’s recordings with the benefit of musical maturity. In the interim period his performances of the two concertos had become more personalised, though heard in the concert hall his affectations would have been seen as added beauty to the slow passages. Over the years he had equally cultivated the mercurial fingers that he loved to display in passages of filigree and scales, and he was tempted to distort rhythms so as to accommodate these rushed and perfunctory passages. He had equally moved to a predilection for completing passages by slowing the last few notes, while in the finale of the First and opening movement of the Second he dashes headlong into passages that stretch even his dexterity to the point of sounding unreasonably rushed. These many points could add up to a cursory dismissal of both performances, but Rubinstein’s playing had that unquantifiable magnetism that transcended points of criticism.The playing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony did not merit the criticism given in the European press. It was not that droopy sound they had come to expect, but a much more vibrant quality. My concern is that the engineers gave the piano so much prominence that you hear precious little inner detail when Rubinstein is playing, and nothing could remove the inherent grittiness in loud orchestral passages.

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