This has seldom out
of the catalogues for long. I suppose the most pressing considerations
regarding the Barenboim-conducted cycle of Beethoven Concertos
are, firstly, how do you like your Rubinstein, svelte or more leisurely, and
secondly how good is the sound quality of the latest transfer.
To answer the second point first it sounds as good as it did,
with no great improvement, given the inherent imbalance in the
aural perspective. This saw the piano grandiloquently foregrounded
and the resulting aural consequences can’t be eased. Thus in the
Emperor we got important
wind detail partially obscured, and some wind and oboe lines are
halting. There is also a slightly congested middle frequency response
throughout. Rubinstein’s playing is eloquent and poetic though
somewhat devitalised in the light of the earlier cycles with Krips
and Leinsdorf. Those runs in the first movement never sound quite
crisp, decisive or climactic enough. He’s more obviously and limpidly
lyrical in the slow movement with Barenboim, though at the cost
of a certain heaviness. And as the recording level is relatively
high it’s difficult for this last cycle to achieve real intimacy.
There’s rather too much slowing down as well and the Leinsdorf
reaches the kind of touching delicacy that this later traversal
can’t aspire to. The gauze veil of the Boston strings for Leinsdorf
are never devoid of tensile strength either; too often in London
things come to a halt, a feature of the finale as well which has
considerably less life and lift than with either previous cycle.
strictures apply, though less so, to the Second Concerto. Here
things aren’t as markedly slower as in previous readings, though
enough very slightly to change the character of the music-making
in all three movements. I think the con brio aspect of the first movement is far better transmitted in
the Leinsdorf set though the warmly moulded slow movement has
affectionate charm and depends on some internally contrastive
material rather more starkly than had been the case in those earlier
cycles. The finale is still full of genial élan, though the responses
are – understandably, given his age – not quite as sharp. Of the
three it’s the first movement that has lost most in the intervening
years. But his tone of course, and despite the calculated imbalance
of the recording, is always warmly lyric
and always demands to be heard.
one of a number of famous and oft-reissued discs in the RCA Red
Seal Classic Library series. Others include Stokowski’s Scheherazade
(the 1975 RPO), Colin Davis’s Berlioz – the Staatskapelle recordings
not the earlier LSO – and Fritz Reiner’s Rossini amidst much else.
I wouldn’t put this Rubinstein disc on that level – but then he
is in competition, not least with himself.