Now twenty-three years gone, Artur Rubinstein remains to this
day one of the most popular and beloved pianists in the world.
His myriad recordings, which span more than six decades and
cover hundreds of works, are a living testament not only to
a great artist, but stand as a document of the progress and
maturity of a man, who though always possessed of tremendous
talent, was not always in control of his technique. These two
performances, nicely remastered and annotated by Living Era
show the pianist as a still relatively young man, and reflect
the result of his five year personal exile from the stage, a
time in which he practiced for twelve to sixteen hours a day,
and reemerged as one of the greatest pianists of the century.
Doubtless even as
long ago as 1932, the Tchaikovsky concerto must have attained
its warhorse status. Rubinstein and Barbirolli present a flashy
but not self-indulgent rendition. Tempo choices are brisk but
not too fast, and the rather lush slow movement is taken at
a serene pace, not overtly romanticized. Rubinstein plays with
panache and aplomb, tossing off the arpeggiated passages with
ease and thundering away in octaves with a great deal of power.
The editors here hold background noise from the 78-rpm originals
to a minimum, and the fullness of the sound is not hampered
by the noise reduction.
The Brahms performance
was the first complete recording of the work, and was hampered
in production by a number of difficulties which included inadequate
rehearsal time, the soloist and conductor having to be placed
at opposite ends of the room and temperature fluctuations which
caused the piano to fall frequently out of tune.
These poor conditions
contribute to a somewhat uneven performance, and as he was somewhat
want to do, Rubinstein blurs over some of the faster passagework
and drops enough notes for even the casual listener to notice
in the first movement. The latter three movements, however,
are much more even, perhaps owing to the musicians’ adjusting
to the adverse recording conditions. A difficult work to keep
together both structurally and technically, Coates takes tempi
that are faster than what later in the century became the norm.
However, it should be noted that conductor and soloist alike
had studied the work with musicians who had known the composer
personally and had played it for him. It can be reasonably assumed
that the performance here is very close to the composer’s intentions
as related by himself. Special notice must go to the LSO principal
cellist (name unknown at this writing) for the lovely third
movement solo, which is played to perfection, and captured rather
warmly even in this primitive sound world.
Living Era have
issued a number of popular releases to wide acclaim, and it
is delightful to these ears that they have decided to plow into
the classical repertory. This series (I also reviewed a recent
Stokowski release from the same group of releases) is obviously
geared more to the artists than the music itself. To that end,
the program notes deal heavily with the performers bios and
with the circumstances under which the recordings were made.
This makes for interesting reading, and kudos goes to David
Patmore for his excellent program essay.
Thus far, everything
that has come across my desk from this series has been more
than worthy, and we can only hope for a long and continually
interesting stream of issues from this label. Strongly recommended,
especially for historical buffs.