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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 (1830) [29:18]
Polonaise in A flat major Op.53 “Heroic” [7:28]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Op. 83 (1881) [45:13]
Rehearsal excerpts of the Brahms Concerto [54:57]
Artur Rubinstein (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Witold Rowicki
rec. live, National Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, February 1960
ALTARA ARCHIVE ALT1021 [74:31 + 62:25]

These live concerto performances are not new to Rubinstein’s discography. They were both issued on Muza LPs and the Chopin, at least, has already appeared on silver disc on Accord ACD080. Rubinstein collectors have the luxury of a raft of recordings of the F minor from which to choose, or not choose if they’re profligate or rich; the 1931 LSO/Barbirolli, the 1946 NBC/Steinberg, Wallenstein’s go-round with the Symphony of the Air in 1958, and the 1968 Philadelphia/Ormandy. The super assiduous will have the 1960 Philharmonia/Giulini. To this list we must add this Warsaw performance with Rowicki.
The piano balance was, of course, heroically skewed toward the soloist. When the strings sing out their first movement melody lines they sound rather subdued – indeed subsumed into the balance. Rowicki is quicker on his feet than Wallenstein in the first movement at least. Rubinstein’s beautiful legato, the sheer aristocratic finesse of his playing is most obviously audible in the slow movement – subject of course to a cougher or two.  We can surely forgive the brass for a couple of finale fluffs, especially in the light of the soloist’s bravura and command, and his sheer eloquence.
The Brahms Concerto was another much recorded Rubinstein performance. He started with that amazing Albert Coates whirlwind 78 set back in 1929 and carried on via the 1952 Boston/Munch to the RCA/Krips in 1958 and the Philadelphia/Ormandy in 1971. There was also a 1962 RAI, Turin with Cluytens on Fonit LP. Doubtless more performances will emerge from the archives.  Rubinstein takes a while to get going with Rowicki – he’s rather splashy – but whilst dropping notes all over the place he generates plenty of dynamism. Once again the orchestra sounds suppressed in relation to the soloist and it’s on slightly variable form. There’s a little talking at 8:13 in the first movement – possibly from the conductor. Occasionally it’s all a bit much in its heroic peremptory nobility. But there’s delicacy and power elsewhere, a fine cello principal in the slow movement, and a good first clarinet. There’s a delightfully skittish finale – my favourite of the four movements in this performance.
The Chopin Polonaise is announced from the stage by Rubinstein – a splendid encore. And there’s something else – a fifty-five minute rehearsal of the Brahms Concerto. The first movement is a straight run through with no stops. In the scherzo Rubinstein and Rowicki chat (in Polish of course) and there’s a lot of shushing – an international language – from the players in preparation for a run-through. There’s similarly some chat at the beginning of the Andante but it, and the finale are mainly straight-through rehearsals with no stops. Not especially enlightening, if one’s honest.
I suggest Rubinstein aficionados check their shelves and consider their options. General listeners will probably prefer the easier aural ride generated by commercial recordings.
Jonathan Woolf


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