> Brahms Piano Concerto No 1 Rubinstein [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Concerto No 1
Four Ballades Op 10
Arthur Rubinstein, piano (Concerto)
Julius Katchen, piano (Ballades)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta
Recorded 1976 (Concerto) 1965 (Ballades)
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 724-2 [70’17]



It is quite a feat to undertake a recording of Brahms One in one's seventies. At eighty the task is Herculean. Rubinstein was eighty-nine. It was his final concerto recording, in May 1976, and followed his discs of the same work with Leinsdorf in Boston in 1964 and his earlier and most famous recording of the concerto with Reiner in Chicago in 1954. Cyrus Meher-Homji’s part of the notes – which deal with the performance whilst Carl Rosman’s deal with the work - are quite honest about the technical limitations inevitably to be found in Rubinstein’s playing. He quotes Mehta on the subject of the first movement’s development section and its octave passages – these had constantly to be retaken because Rubinstein’s failing sight meant he couldn’t see the right hand notes.

This is a predominantly slow reading, still moving, but not really comparable with the earlier recordings - and especially that with Reiner – in either vigour or finesse. After a dramatic but broad opening tutti Rubinstein enters at a much slower tempo, with very slightly choppy rhythm. Not all his trills are clean and he has obvious problems – as noted above – in those dramatic octave passages. Yet there is something quietly and nourishingly compelling about the playing in the slow movement - for all that the balance characteristically favoured the soloist to an unnatural degree. The finale is slow but full of clarity and playfulness. As throughout there are numerous finger slips – some minor, some not – and listen at 7’01 for a particular example. But be sure as well to listen at 10’00 to the insouciance and sheer cheekiness of his playing, with his spicy treble fillips. Even at 89 he was incorrigible, especially in the light of the immediately succeeding passage – very, very scrappy.

Julius Katchen’s 1965 Ballades complete the disc – a rather curious collection of virtues and demerits. There is much introspection and glitteringly good playing but the Fourth is very fast and the opening of Eduard never coalesces with the following tempo. Elsewhere clarity and propulsion are paramount to the semi-exclusion of real and consistent involvement.

An uneven disc then; it’s probably better to remember Rubinstein’s Brahms One from his 1954 sessions than to persist with the imperfections of old age in this moving but flawed last testament.

Jonathan Woolf




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