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Rubinstein & Mitropoulos
Alexander BORODIN (1833–1887)
In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880) [7:51]
Camille SAINT-SA
ËNS (1835–1921)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, op.22 (1868) [
César FRANCK (1822–1890)
Symphonic Variations (1885) [14:21]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872–1915)
Poème de l’Extase, op.54 (1905/1908) [18:17]
Artur Rubinstein (piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos
rec. live, 19 April 1953, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. ADD
GUILD GHCD2355 [63:44] 
Experience Classicsonline

This is a most welcome issue of a complete concert, one of the Sunday afternoon NYPO broadcast shows, I suppose, to judge by the duration. Live recordings of Mitropoulos are appearing from various sources these days and this one is most welcome in that growing catalogue.

Although the sound is quite fierce at the start of the Borodin by the time we reach the concerto it has settled down. It is very good, considering the source material used - second generation transcription discs, digitally remastered - and there is some fine music-making on offer. 

Borodin’s musical picture is a delicate flower, a single tune going round and round in a languorous way - if one can be languorous whilst in the steppes of central Asia. Absolutely nothing is happening: the music simply seems to hang in the air. This performance is straightforward and without incident, just as it should be, but there is a feeling of detachment about the interpretation. Perhaps conductor and orchestra hadn’t warmed up sufficiently. 

They certainly had by the time Rubinstein joined them for the Concerto. I have long enjoyed Rubinstein’s 1958 recording of this work with the Symphony of the Air conducted by Alfred Wallenstein (RCA Victor Red Seal 63053, coupled with the Schumann and Liszt No.1) but this performance, and interpretation, is better, due to the fact that it is live … and very alive! The opening solo fantasia is more baroque in feel, surely exactly what the composer wanted, and the short orchestral interjections are less forced. The middle movement dance is a delight, some lovely use of rubato, sparkling runs and never over-emphasised phrasing of the chordal passages. It’s easy to understand why the audience bursts into spontaneous applause at the end. The finale is taken at breakneck speed but neither soloist nor orchestra puts a finger wrong. It’s a wonderful performance and it’s well worth buying this disk purely for this performance. Incidentally, whilst the opening was all baroque filigree this finale is pure Beethovenian frenzy. 

Franck’s Symphonic Variations receives a big performance, Rubinstein treating it as a real Concerto movement, and it works very well because so often, in other hands, this work can sound rather sad and forlorn – simply because it isn’t a Concerto movement! In this performance it’s bright and breezy, a bit hard-driven perhaps but it’s none the worse for that. There’s poetry when necessary and a lovely light feel to the final variation. 

Scriabin’s Poème de l’Extase receives a hothouse performance from Mitropoulos and his band. They go all out to make this something special and in the hall it must have been overwhelming. It’s incredible that this recording contains the sound as well as it does, but with the orchestral image somewhat recessed the big climaxes, and this work has a few, never overpower the microphones and thus we get a fair representation of the performance. The work cannot have been well known to the players but they rise to the challenge and give a fine performance. 

This disk is a valuable document containing, as it does, a complete concert in good sound. Guild has really taken a lead in reissues of older material – think of their marvellous light music series – and it is to be thanked for making available to us such fine music-making. Making this a special event is a fine note by Robert Matthew–Walker in the booklet. I do not see that this is just for the collector with an interest in historical performance, for it is too good to be consigned to the shelf of the few. Everybody should hear these great artists working together for the sake of their musical souls.

Bob Briggs



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