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
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.
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