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Fryderyk Chopin (1810 – 1849)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (b)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (a)
Artur Rubinstein (piano) (a)
Martha Argerich (b)
National Philharmonic Orchestra – Warsaw/ (a)
Sinfonia Varsovia (b)
Witold Rowicki (conductor) (a)
Grzegorz Nowak (b)
Recorded: Feb 22 1960, live at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall (a) April 12 1992, Polish Radio Studio S1 Warsaw (b)
CD ACCORD ACD 080 [68.33]


Rubinstein was over 70 when this recording of Chopin’s 2nd piano concerto was made and there is no denying that there are occasional signs of age and little slips. The recording itself also shows its age, with a reasonable amount of hiss and some audience noise. The orchestra are the National Philharmonic Orchestra – Warsaw under Witold Rowicki. As accompanists they are sluggish at times and their robust way with the opening of the concerto is a fair reflection on their performance. To add to this, the piano sound is rather glassy particularly in the upper register.

So why bother, you may ask? Well simply because Rubinstein is one of the most elegant of all Chopin pianists. He has a sense of stylistic ease and distinction that is almost patrician. This performance, with its wonderful rubatos, has radiates a confidence that is life affirming. Perhaps there are moments when the style seems a little old-fashioned, but the elegance of Rubinstein’s playing transcends this. Even if we had occasional doubts about the overall recorded sound, the translucency and sheer magic of the opening of the second movement wins us over.
Then there is the sense of occasion: a live recording with Polish forces in Poland, his native country. How could we not be moved?

Rubinstein made other fine recordings of the Chopin piano concertos in the same period and it is perfectly possible to acquire a CD with his recordings of both the first and second piano concertos. Strangely enough this disc couples the 1960 Rubinstein to one from 1992 given by the Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich with the Sinfonia Varsovia under Grzegorz Nowak. Again this is a live recording but this time made in the studios of Polish Radio rather than in the concert hall. Not surprisingly the recorded sound is substantially better. Sinfonia Varsovia prove themselves an attentive and flexible ensemble. Argerich’s playing has a delicacy and poetry that belies its strength. Of course, it helps that the recorded sound accorded to Argerich is far better than the sound on the Rubinstein recording. The crystalline clarity of her playing is wondrous.

As a coupling, these two recordings make strange bedfellows. The two performers come from different worlds. This disc will appeal mainly to lovers of the piano, keen to extend their library. Those looking to explore Chopin or Rubinstein or Argerich would perhaps better off looking for a more consistently programmed disc.

Robert Hugill

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