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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN:
Piano Concerto #4 in G
Artur Rubinstein, piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Antal Dorati conducting
Recorded Royal Festival Hall 7 December 1967
Frederick CHOPIN:
Polonaise in Ab, "Heroic"
Artur Rubinstein, piano
Recorded Royal Festival Hall 26 May 1968
Violin Concerto #2 in e: I. allegro molto appassionato
La Fille aux Cheveux de lin, arr. Heifetz violin and orchestra
Grigoras DINICU:
Hora Staccato, arr. Heifetz violin and orchestra
Jascha Heifetz, violin
Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra, Donald Voorhees conducting
Recorded in the USA in 1949
Sir William WALTON:
Cello Concerto
Gregor Piatigorsky, cello
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting
Recorded Royal Albert Hall 13 February 1957
PAL System 4:3 B&W No Region code
Menu Languages: English/Deutsch/Français/Espagnol
Insert: essay by Nalen Anthoni

The video tape recorder was invented in 1956, and it was over a decade before it became economically available for general broadcast use. Although the slipcase notes say these performances were "filmed" what is meant is that they are "kinescope recordings" accomplished by setting up a film camera before a video monitor. While there is a steady improvement in quality from the earliest—the Heifetz—to the latest—the Rubinstein, none of these recordings are as clear as tape video recordings would be. The soundtracks vary in quality and were originally very hissy; processing has been used to remove hiss, and in some cases a little of the music as well.

The Mendelssohn is a disaster. Heifetz looks bored to death as usual, playing the violin as another man might paint the wall of a house; but, after all, World’s Greatest Violinist is the only job he’s ever had and he’s plugged away at since he was nine years old. I’m sure that most of the time the orchestra and soloist were playing at approximately the same tempo, but I don’t remember it that way. The sound quality is atrocious—grating, raucous. In addition, due to several consecutive video format conversions, the soloist occasionally has ten fingers, and the conductor five hands. If you are familiar with any of Heifetz’s fine studio recordings of this work you don’t want to compromise the memory of that beautiful experience with this.

The Debussy is better played all around and who can tell if the orchestra and soloist are playing from the same measure? The girl in the fright wig pretending to brush her hair might have looked really great on a six inch TV screen in 1949. The Dinicu is rousing and everybody seems to be having fun. Heifetz actually manages a smirk which, on the Heifetz scale, is equivalent to an ear-to-ear gosh-oh-gee farmboy grin.

The best thing on the program is the Beethoven, as fine an interpretation as I’ve ever heard, clear and classically proportioned with no inappropriate overstatement. Rubinstein’s face shows concentration and absorption; one cannot imagine that somebody else wrote this music, or that it could be played any other way than this (curiously, the annotator seems to think this is an eccentric performance). Dorati looks like he’s pounding his fists on a table much of the time, but, whatever it takes, the orchestra sounds great. Here one can relax and enjoy the music. The audience certainly did; here one can aptly say the applause "exploded."

I found the Chopin encore a disappointment. Rubinstein is obviously tired after a long concert and the work is played effortfully without much grace or sense of motion.

The Walton is well played, but the noise clamping filter causes the sound simply to disappear during the pianissimos, and just when you’re settling in the picture will take a flip. Everyone plays well, especially the four percussionists. Piatigorsky’s face shows tremendous emotion and concentration, and at the end he wipes away a tear before rising to take his bow. While watching this picture, play a commercial audio recording.

One can only applaud what will hopefully become commonplace—issuing classical music DVDs without region codes, even though some of the early players will not play them.

It is also hoped that the release of these older films will teach something to the current crop of video directors. Throughout these videos the presentation of the orchestra is a sensible mixture of medium views, overall views, and close-ups—miraculously, generally of the actual instrument playing at the time. In the Mendelssohn they show a closeup of the score and, incredible as it may seem, it is actually the music then being played. It seems that what we’ve been getting recently is a nervous flitting, panning, an impressionistic sweeping through something orchestral, not necessarily related to the music or what the orchestra is actually doing. Or we have too much concentration on a superstar conductor’s grimaces and choreography.

Paul Shoemaker

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