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Jonathan Woolf
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Not available in the USA

CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.18 (1901) [29:23]
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op.43 (1934) [22:09]
Prelude in C sharp minor, op.3 no.2 (1892) [4:22]
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Golschmann (Piano Concerto No.2)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind (Rhapsody)
rec. Carnegie Hall, New York, 27 May 1946 (Piano Concerto No.2); EMI Abbey Road Studio No.1, London, 16-17 September 1947 (Rhapsody); RCA Studios, Hollywood, 11 December 1950 (prelude)


Experience Classicsonline

Rubinstein’s 1946 Carnegie Hall recording of the C minor concerto is one of the fastest on record; I can’t say the fastest because I’m in no position to have heard them all. It’s certainly quicker than the composer’s own electric recording with Stokowski though roughly on a par with the 1924 late acoustic they made together. Even here however Rubinstein is quite a bit quicker in the finale. The effect is one of intense excitement and engagement, sprinkled with a number of the pianist’s own textual emendations, and given the notorious microphone placement on which he insisted the result is a blockbusting, visceral and very up-front traversal. Rubinstein refuses almost all offers to linger, preferring instead a valiant, almost defiant linearity that’s by no means finger perfect but adds a remarkable gloss to more indulgent performers. That said I don’t think anyone would call Moiseiwitsch sentimental in this regard and yet he in his recordings with Goehr and Cameron was altogether slower – three and a half minutes slower in total with Goehr in 1937 for example – and he didn’t sound sentimental either.

What does emerge strongly in this performance is Rubinstein’s approach to elements of Rachmaninoff’s  writing that others can elide, especially audible – given the nature of the recording – in the slow movement. I found his playing here at its best, though the recording sabotages string counter themes and wind lines rather ruinously; even the horns suffer badly. But the compensations are once again linear and decisive, qualities that reappear in the finale. Moiseiwitsch’s slightly earlier performance of this clocked in at 11: 24 – and he was no slouch; Rubinstein dispatches his finale in 9:58.

The Rhapsody is better balanced. He also had a better orchestra than the NBC in the form of the Philharmonia and a better accompanist than Golschmann in Walter Susskind. Still it’s again a vivaciously phrased and again very powerful, no prisoners type of performance. The pianist’s chording is dynamic and ringing, the horns sound resplendent. The winds etch their lines with powerful personality. For all the élan things don’t sound breathless as they could in the concerto. The tempo here is on a par with Moiseiwitsch’s. A 1950 C sharp minor Prelude makes a formidable, if perhaps inevitable ‘encore’ – Rubinstein’s only commercial recording of a solo piece by the composer.

In conclusion there’s quite a bit under an hour of well annotated and expertly transferred Rubinstein-Rachmaninoff here. Powerful, graphically pictorial and directional; intensely dramatic, sometimes uncomfortably so.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Maynard



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