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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, June 2011

I was talking to a well known critic recently who told me that he thought that Rubinstein ‘was an especially bad pianist’. Some critics have binary minds: A is good; B is bad, and so on. I doubt anything in this disc can serve to redirect a closed mind or one prone to melodramatic flourishes. Still, it should.

This is a truly beautiful performance of the B flat major concerto. It’s never been issued before, which makes its appearance in ICA Classics livery, ex WDR Cologne broadcasts, all the more valuable. Naturally there will be those who point to Rubinstein’s discography and note that, in addition to the fast and loose 1929 78 set with Albert Coates, we already have the 1958 Krips and the later 1972 Ormandy studio recordings. So indeed we do. But when a performance is as convincing as this one, and so well taped too, then one could wish for a legion of live performances from Rubinstein.

I worried that his first entry was too loud, but my ear soon adjusted and this despite the fact that the microphone is rather too close to the piano than is ideal for a really good balance. Almost immediately though one notices the excellent rapport between soloist and conductor. Rubinstein had known Christoph von Dohnányi’s father, so maybe that was a contributing reason—but I think rather that solid musicianship must have accounted for the notably fine ensemble, though in fairness one must note it’s not wholly watertight. Rubinstein’s sure sense of rubato is evident in the second movement, and the slow movement has a marvellous sense of chamber collaboration about it, not just the nobly restrained cello solo, or Rubinstein’s musing responses but later too, when the oboe, cello and piano entwine so wonderfully. The finale is galvanizing and outstanding too—pedants will note a few smudged passages, but the rest of us can listen to a performance of wonderful poise and purpose, at the end of which one feels both grateful, and happy.

The remainder of the programme comes from a solo recital Rubinstein gave in Nijmegen in 1963. Other items from this performance have been released before but this quintet of pieces is making its first ever appearance. He shows a commanding control over the rhetoric of Brahms’s Rhapsody, marrying passionate drama with reflective intimacy, but never at the expense of the music’s spine. Chopin’s Nocturne is possessed of texture and colour and the most subtle of rubati. The waltz is suffused with Rubinstein’s charm. After a brief announcement, in German, he launches into a truly daemonic rendition of de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance.

This brings the disc to a volcanic end. It’s a treasurable one, offering lasting virtues, and performances of subtlety, warmth and humanity.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, June 2011

The legendary charisma and indelible individuality of Arthur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein was at the height of his powers during the 1960s and, heard live from Zürich and in a rare appearance with a German orchestra (conscious of the fate of so many of his race and nationality, he refused all offers to play in Germany), he performs with an eloquence and exultance that are quite simply unique. Every inch a musical king, he makes no sentimental concessions but imperiously sweeps Brahms’s outsize demands under the carpet. At the same time, his seamless legato, ravishing tone and soaring lyricism declare his identity throughout. Hear him in the più adagio section of the Andante and you will note his indelible individuality, that momentary holding back within the phrase, that sudden catch in the voice that made him possibly the greatest “singer-pianist” of all. Again, never did the outwardly academic term “rubato” translate so effortlessly into musical breathing.

A momentary failure of concentration in the opening pages of the Allegro appassionato is compensated on the repeat with unfaltering authority; and if the finale is a “glory of tumbling gaiety”, you are also conscious of an iron fist in a velvet glove. Then there is one delectable encore after another, each reflecting a time and place before the constricting influences of the competition circuit or the tyrannical quest for clinical, note-perfect CDs. What heart-easing cantabile in the B minor Rhapsody’s second subject; what teasing elegance in the B minor Capriccio from Op 76 (here listed oddly as being in F sharp minor)! How understandable Rubinstein makes Richter’s shying away from Chopin, daunted by a patrician supremacy he could hardly match. Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance (announced in German by the pianist) is tossed off with all of Rubinstein’s legendary charisma and aplomb. The transfers are excellent and so one can hardly be sufficiently grateful for the issue of such musical and, above all, human treasure.

Jed Distler, February 2011

Much as Arthur Rubinstein enjoyed making recordings, he loved to play in public even more, and his extant live performances usually communicate more verve, sweep, and joie de vivre than his later studio efforts. A previously unreleased live Brahms Second concerto from Zurich on May 23, 1966 is a case in point. To my mind, this performance splits the difference between the impetuous, skittish qualities of Rubinstein’ 1958 studio version under Josef Krips and the stricter metrics characterizing the pianist’ impressive yet relatively stolid 1972 Ormandy/Philadelphia remake.

Rubinstein’ large hands grasp Brahms’ unwieldy textures with the utmost ease and eloquence, from the first movement’ burly chordal passages to the finale’ scampering coda. In turn, Christoph von Dohnányi provides a marvelously alert, supportive, and full-throated orchestral framework. The (unnamed) third-movement cello soloist plays with subtle freedom and a gorgeous tone to match.

Previously unreleased solo pieces from Rubinstein’ inspired April 20, 1963 Nijmegen recital fill out the disc. Brahms’ B minor Rhapsody soars and flows with far more poetry and controlled freedom than in Rubinstein’ studio versions. Similarly, the Op. 76 No. 2 Capriccio is less square and studio-bound with an audience present, while the Chopin D-flat Nocturne and C-sharp minor Waltz feature heartfelt turns of phrase and rubatos that their stereo studio counterparts only hint at. As for the concluding Ritual Fire Dance, I can’t tell who enjoys those extroverted upward glissandos more: myself, the audience, or Rubinstein. Probably the latter! The engineering typifies German Radio’ high standards in the 1960s. Warmly recommended.

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