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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor Appassionata, Op. 57 (1804-05) [23:34]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzo No.2 in B flat minor Op.117 [4:50]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval Op.9 (1835) [26:45]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 (1836) [9:25]
Etude in E minor Op.25 No.5 (1837) [3:15]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody in C sharp minor S244 No.12 [9:59]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
A Prole do Bebê – Book 1 – O polichinelo (1918) [2:06]
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
rec. live, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 20 April 1963
MEDICI ARTS MM029-2 [80:45]
Experience Classicsonline

Rubinstein live in recital invariably brought an extra frisson to performances. Late in his performing life, the frisson was not unconnected with digital accidents, though the fire still burned brightly well into his eighties. But this Nijmegen concert was taped in 1963 and it finds the pianist in incendiary form. Speculation as to why his playing was so tensile that day includes his acknowledged nervousness at performing in a town so near the German border – he refused to play in Germany after the War - or maybe, as so often, it was a combination of events or circumstances, or indeed none at all.
 
The fact remains that this is Rubinstein in scintillating form. The Appassionata receives a performance of powerful commitment and intense drama. Expressive in the slow movement, vital and passionate in the finale it hitches a ride of palpable near-combustion without transgressing musical bounds. The result is a traversal of fulsome communicative force, perfectly controlled and canalised.
 
After this comes the Brahms Intermezzo which Rubinstein plays with the wisest of heads, fusing surety of direction with intimacy of expression – and adding a delicacy and refinement that gives the tonal shores of the music great warmth. Schumann’s Carnaval is the centrepiece of the programme. This is dispatched with great personality – though there are some textual quirks and Rubinstein can personalise to a degree what others tend to enfold into the flux of the writing. Dynamics and rhythmic matters are the main bones of contention – but set against this we have playing brimful of generosity and affection, positively galvanic in places in the Préambule where Rubinstein’s rubati are pronounced but never gauche. Chopin is predictably ravishing; indeed the whole performance is a vindication of the recital.

It’s apt that two pieces by Chopin should follow. The G minor Ballade is magnificently structured and dynamic. Rubinstein’s tonal palette is broad and vivid, the playing full of unostentatious panache. So too in the Etude. To finish we have a sizzler – Liszt’s C sharp minor Hungarian Rhapsody, a really coruscating and brilliant performance revealing a technique seemingly unruffled by its many demands. The encore is a piece he often performed: Villa-Lobos’s O polichinelo.
 
With first class stereo sound this makes a serious claim on even the most ardent, albeit penurious Rubinstein adherent.  I can’t recall a live performance by the pianist to equal it.
 
Jonathan Woolf 
 


 


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