The Rubinstein Collection Vol.15
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No.2
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto
RCA Red Seal 09026 63015-2
The Rubinstein Collection Vol.20
RCA Red Seal 09026 63020-2
UK £8.99 Amazon US
For ten years after this recording was made Rubinstein's account of Rachmaninov's
Second Concerto was a best-seller in the catalogue. He had recorded it a
year earlier with Stokowski and the Hollywood Bowl orchestra but the result
was not passed for release. Vladimir Golschmann, accompanying him here with
the NBC Symphony Orchestra, was the long-time conductor in St Louis and generally
keeps in touch with his soloist in this most rubato-ridden of warhorse-concertos.
Rubinstein combines virtuosity with subtlety. Those introductory solo piano
chords grow to such a dynamic extent that his playing seems as if it will
burst through the speakers before the orchestra joins in. The solo flute
(with a vibrato less common nowadays) and (the slightly breathless) clarinet
are accompanied with due sensitivity, but the strings' pizzicato is rather
dry in the background. Resonance is sparse throughout but one can only marvel
at Rubinstein's exhilarating temperament and phenomenal technique, although
one can sense a smell of burning brake rubber a minute or two after he sets
off at a rate of knots in the finale as he attempts to rein it all in a bit.
His recording of Tchaikovsky's first concerto was also a second one, though
the first (with Barbirolli in 1932) had appeared in the shops, and three
more would follow (one banned by Rubinstein 'because I played it too badly').
It's an expansive account from those first rising chords and the partnership
with the ascetic Mitropoulos a more deeply felt one, possibly because the
Greek conductor was also a fabulous pianist who had been a pupil of Busoni.
He and Rubinstein concertized often, though this is the only studio collaboration
they made. Again the orchestral sound in the ritornelli has a tendency to
a total lack of sheen and bloom, particularly in the heavy brass and the
dull thud of timpani, but this is the consequence of the transfer process.
Not all the slips (to which Rubinstein gradually became more and more prone
as the years progressed) are ironed out but in this day and age of recordings
taken from live performances (pace the BBC Legends series) this is now becoming
more and more acceptable. Rubinstein used to joke that his role was to make
amends for the behaviour of his namesake (but no relation), Nicholas Rubinstein,
who had dismissed the concerto as unplayable. From the evidence of his playing
Arthur did that and more besides. One curiosity is the F as the third note
in the flute's melody at the start of the Andantino, made the more curious
by Rubinstein's answer on the piano with the higher note of Bb. This is the
so-called 'Artot contour', but no place here to go into it suffice to say
that it may have been a coded reference to the one near physical relationship
he had with a woman (the singer Desiree Artot) and her initials AD, the interval
of a fourth, coded in music. Nowadays both instruments play the same version.
Speaking of coded messages or names in music, the greatest exponent of that
quirky behaviour was Schumann and his solo piano music, particularly
Carnaval, which features on records from the earliest days in the
hands of such performers as Sauer, Cortot and Rachmaninov. Rubinstein, despite
frequently programming this extended suite of scenes from a masked ball,
took until 1953 before he committed his interpretation to disc. It is a tender
account, but alternately dramatic too. His innate genial capacity to switch
mood effortlessly is underlined in the wondrous playing of the central trio
of pieces entitled Chopin, Estrella, Reconnaissance,
Pantalon et Colombine respectively. It all ends in a blaze of Beethovenian
quotation as David marches fearlessly against the Philistines. A rare transfer
(from a 7" 45 rpm disc originally entitled 'Rubinstein plays Schumann') is
also included on the CD and consists of three pieces, Novellette Op.21
No.1, Nachtstück Op.23 No.4 and the Romance Op.28 No.2,
all recorded at the same October/December sessions as Carnaval. They
make for compulsive listening, particularly the deceptively simple sounding
Nachtstück which we all think we can play, and the mellow 'thumbs'
melody of the Romance in which Rubinstein's hands sing. An earlier
(1949) magical recording of the Fantasiestücke completes this
highly recommended disc which, with the two concertos in another volume,
is part of RCA's formidable project to bring together in an 81-set Arthur
Rubinstein Collection everything he ever recorded between 1928 and 1976.
On the showing of these two - so far so good.