(1810 – 1849)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21
Polonaise No.6 in A flat major Op.53
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 9 June 1968
Bonus: Rubinstein in Conversation with Bernard Levin. BBC
1 December 1968 [51:00]
Picture NTSC/4:3 B&W; Sound PCM Mono; Languages E, D, F; Region
This black and white footage comes from a concert at London’s
Royal Festival Hall given during a tour by the Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its formation.
The audience is bedecked in finery, the men largely in bow ties,
the women in furs, very ostentatious jewellery and elegant dresses.
The orchestra was directed by Zubin Mehta and the guest soloist
was Arthur Rubinstein in Chopin’s F minor Concerto, which is
all we see of the concert, this being a Rubinstein release.
We are not told, but it’s possible, that the rest of the concert
was not filmed by the BBC. It was, in fact, often the case that
only one work was filmed.
Mehta’s beat is strict and military. He looks moody, and like
a young Leonard Bernstein – maybe he was modelling the Bernsteinian
quiff. Rubinstein remains snowy-headed and taciturn. His pianism
is elegant, relaxed, unshowy and beautifully controlled. Several
camera angles cover the stage, allowing one access to the keyboard
as well as to a ‘front-on’ view of the musicians and these camera
shots are apposite, and sensitively accomplished. There’s applause
at the end of the first movement. At this time the orchestra
sported some highly identifiable and distinctive wind players
– the clarinets, the bassoon in particular – but though they
are constantly in motion, Rubinstein is a study in facial passivity,
in much the same way as was Benno Moiseiwitsch.
Maybe the clarinets are a touch flat in the finale but the music
is still richly characterised, and there’s plenty of colour
and vivacity. I watched Uchida in a filmed concert last night,
and her moth-like fluttering is so at odds with the dignity
of Rubinstein that they might as well be espousing different
professions. He plays as an encore the A flat major Polonaise,
with characteristic élan and drama. To watch Rubinstein in concert
in this way, in so canonic a repertoire as this, is a privilege.
The second part of the DVD is a filmed interview between Rubinstein
and the young Bernard Levin, from an Omnibus TV programme of
1 December 1968. The conversation lasts 51 minutes, and the
music portion 40, so you will appreciate that there is more
talk than play in this release. But Rubinstein is no less fascinating
as a talker than as a musician, or only marginally less so,
and I found this segment unmissable. He addresses the question
of his date of birth – 1887 or 1889 - with a tall-tale sounding
anecdote about evasion of military service. He reminds us that
Joachim acted as a surrogate protectorate, forbidding wunderkind
exploitation, that he later became London’s ‘Society Pianist’
in the frivolous teens of the century – or that, at least, was
how it looked to an outsider. We hear of his love of sport and
films, of his playboy reputation, his disdain for ‘tradition’.
And then there are his aperçu; the ‘classicism’ of Chopin, the
best audiences always being women; how connoisseurs at concerts
are nothing less than ‘detectives’. Throughout, Levin is wide-eyed,
sometimes gauche, and even oddly shallow. That’s not how I remember
him, so maybe he was overawed.
Production values here are strong. This Rubinstein film is,
for me, unmissable.