Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major Op.83 (1878-81) [47:11]
Rhapsody in B minor Op.79/1 (1879) [8:28]
Capriccio in F sharp minor Op.76/2 (1878) [3:38]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in D flat major Op.27/2 (1835) [5:57]
Waltz in C sharp minor Op.64/2 (1846-47) [3:40]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El amor brujo - Ritual Fire Dance (1914-15) [3:33]
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christoph von DohnŠnyi
rec. 23 May 1966, Zurich (Concerto) and 20 April 1963 Nijmegen (recital)
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5003 [74:39]

I was talking to a well known critic recently who told me that he thought that Rubinstein Ďwas an especially bad pianistí. Some critics have binary minds: A is good; B is bad, and so on. I doubt anything in this disc can serve to redirect a closed mind or one prone to melodramatic flourishes. Still, it should.

This is a truly beautiful performance of the B flat major concerto. Itís never been issued before, which makes its appearance in ICA Classics livery, ex WDR Cologne broadcasts, all the more valuable. Naturally there will be those who point to Rubinsteinís discography and note that, in addition to the fast and loose 1929 78 set with Albert Coates, we already have the 1958 Krips and the later 1972 Ormandy studio recordings. So indeed we do. But when a performance is as convincing as this one, and so well taped too, then one could wish for a legion of live performances from Rubinstein.

I worried that his first entry was too loud, but my ear soon adjusted and this despite the fact that the microphone is rather too close to the piano than is ideal for a really good balance. Almost immediately though one notices the excellent rapport between soloist and conductor. Rubinstein had known Christoph von DohnŠnyiís father, so maybe that was a contributing reason Ė but I think rather that solid musicianship must have accounted for the notably fine ensemble, though in fairness one must note itís not wholly watertight. Rubinsteinís sure sense of rubato is evident in the second movement, and the slow movement has a marvellous sense of chamber collaboration about it, not just the nobly restrained cello solo, or Rubinsteinís musing responses but later too, when the oboe, cello and piano entwine so wonderfully. The finale is galvanizing and outstanding too Ė pedants will note a few smudged passages, but the rest of us can listen to a performance of wonderful poise and purpose, at the end of which one feels both grateful, and happy.

The remainder of the programme comes from a solo recital Rubinstein gave in Nijmegen in 1963. Other items from this performance have been released before but this quintet of pieces is making its first ever appearance. He shows a commanding control over the rhetoric of Brahmsís Rhapsody, marrying passionate drama with reflective intimacy, but never at the expense of the musicís spine. Chopinís Nocturne is possessed of texture and colour and the most subtle of rubati. The waltz is suffused with Rubinsteinís charm. After a brief announcement, in German, he launches into a truly daemonic rendition of de Fallaís Ritual Fire Dance.

This brings the disc to a volcanic end. Itís a treasurable one, offering lasting virtues, and performances of subtlety, warmth and humanity.

Jonathan Woolf

A treasurable disc, offering lasting virtues, and performances of subtlety, warmth and humanity.