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Jonathan Woolf
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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 (1829-30) [31:35]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1881) [47:39]
Arthur Rubinstein (piano), Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Antal Doráti
rec. live, 13 October 1967, Konserthuset, Stockholm

It was concerto night in Stockholm on 13 October 1967. Arthur Rubinstein was in town to perform Chopin and Brahms with the Stockholm Philharmonic and their conductor Antal Doráti, and the event was recorded and has now been issued under the auspices of the society that bears the conductor’s name.

There is very much terra cognita, repertoire-wise, at least for the pianist. He was still playing marvelously well but the fierier exponent to be heard in the Chopin with the NBC Orchestra back in 1946, galvanized by William Steinberg, has become rather less earthy and dramatic. He takes somewhat more time over his phrasing and passagework alike; refinement and elegance are there in profusion but so too is a more expansive view of things, a less tigerish bravura. The even, rounded trills of the second movement, and the limpidity of his touch are balanced by the deft joviality of the finale. Doráti is a most sympathetic accompanist. Applause is quickly faded out and there’s very slight tape damage around the 5:56 mark in the opening movement.

If Rubinstein is best-known in the Brahms Concerto for his 1958 RCA recording with Josef Krips or the slower and less impulsive stereo 1972 LP with Ormandy, perhaps a more relevant and just comparator would be the 1966 WDR broadcast with Dohnányi released on ICA (review). As with the WDR reading there is still a strong sense of phrasal freedom and of rubato. The playing is powerful, commanding, expressive and intense. Indeed, unlike the digitally superior Dohnányi, his trivial slips in Stockholm are more noticeable than usual and one might suspect he was tiring as the concert unfolded were it not for the fact that he maintains both sensitive shading and imperious control. The cello solo in the slow movement is both plangent and refined and throughout the concerto the conductor proves a laudable collaborator. On my review copy there was a constant clicking in the finale for several minutes. I don’t know if affects the master copy but it is very off-putting even to ears attuned to the murky days of 78s.

The only other complaint is that the gaps between tracks and certainly between concertos is too brief. Assuming these concerns can be remedied this release, which comes with track listing but no notes and without a jewel case, has a lot to offer.

Jonathan Woolf

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