known to have admired Brahms to such an extent that he was
second only in his musical affections to Mozart. He had both
the D minor and Mozart’s K488 in his repertoire from a very
early age – around the turn of the twentieth century in fact
– and they were constant companions in his concerto repertoire.
So it’s wise of BBC Legends to have conjoined them in this
way, celebrating performances given with Colin Davis in the
His Brahms D minor
is best enshrined in the commercial recording with Reiner
on RCA Red Seal, reissued in 2005 on SACD (see review).
The studio imbalance favoured the soloist to a degree unconscionable
in this day and age but these were the days of Titans, the
days when you’d go to a concert to see a performer as much
as to hear a work. Decca Eloquence released Rubinstein’s late
meeting in Israel with Zubin Mehta (see review)
- but Rubinstein was eighty-nine, the recording was once more
heroically unbalanced and a lot of the solo playing was, understandably,
With Davis’s BBC
Orchestra in 1968 we have a performance of great charisma
and power; less tactile and driving than Reiner, less lingering
and digitally flawed than Mehta. But whilst temporally it’s
nearer to the 1976 Israel recording than the 1954 Chicago,
in terms of command and surety there is no sense of equidistance.
This is still very much the Rubinstein of old, and not yet
the more fallible artist. Certainly there are dropped notes,
predominately early on but he soon assumes a degree of lyric
power that is deeply impressive. So too is Colin Davis, espousing
Brahms in a way that one would not necessarily expect from
him now. He also gives his younger compatriot Simon Rattle
something of a lesson in tempo modification and natural sounding
dynamic gradients – Rattle’s recording of the D minor recently
with Krystian Zimerman was not an overly edifying event (see
It’s true that the slow movement is a “late”
Rubinstein tempo – it’s essentially the same as in the Mehta
recording - but it has greater passion and fire and a greater
sense too of romantic embrace. Davis’s tempo elasticity matches
Rubinstein’s blow for blow here and in the finale, a bumpy
moment or two apart, the sense of live music-making caught
joyfully on the wing is palpable.
This applies just
as much to the Mozart, a favourite of Rubinstein’s from amongst
the select repertoire of the composer’s works – six concertos
and one sonata. Four years earlier he’d recorded a commercial
performance of K488 with Wallenstein and the RCA Victor Orchestra.
Timings are almost identical and the direction of the music
making similarly synchronous, albeit the ECO do play with
a greater sense of intimacy. Their winds are a real delight
and the freedom and flexibility of phrasing is a real pleasure.
Rubinstein’s delicacy and intimacy are matched by simplicity
of phrasing and a true naturalness of expression. The slow
movement is radiantly beautiful, the soloist proving the most
eloquent winged messenger imaginable.
Some of the BBC
Legend issues have contained the occasional dud yoked to an
undeniably elevated performance. No such concern bedevils
this release. Both are singularly impressive examples of Rubinstein’s