Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22
Prole do bebê – Moreninha; A Pobresinha; Polichinello
Etude in E minor, Op.25/5
Scherzo in B flat minor, Op.31
Artur Rubinstein (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra [Beethoven]
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Antal Dorati [Beethoven]
Recorded in the Royal Festival Hall, London – Beethoven on 7 December 1967, Saint-Saëns on 27 November 1957, Chopin Scherzo on 4 December 1968; Villa-Lobos and Chopin Étude on 9 November 1958 in BBC Studios, London
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 77 minutes
Things do not begin promisingly. Artur Rubinstein opens the Beethoven concerto in a rather disconcertingly blatant fashion, which is followed by a rather workaday orchestral exposition from the London Philharmonic and Antal Dorati. Rubinstein’s magic fingerwork is all in place, in this concerto that bristles with finicky passages, as is huge confidence (possibly, then, the opening is a statement of intent). His legato, too, is almost unparalleled in its smoothness, each note weighted and toned perfectly. Yet he is weighed-down by his accompanists, something which becomes crystal clear when he is left on his own to muse, decorate and thrill in the first movement cadenza (which he despatches with the utmost sensitivity). He even expands this cadenza a little.
The sound for the strings at the opening of the slow movement is rather wiry, although they do exude some force. Infinitely more affecting are Rubinstein’s responses, more direct than one often hears before softening as he moves towards the highly-propelled finale. Even in this finale, though, it is Rubinstein’s exquisite tone that impresses most. Dorati seems to be having on off-day generally. There is, however, real energy to the closing pages.
It is only fair to label this account of Beethoven’s Fourth as adjunct to Rubinstein’s versions with Josef Krips (1956) and Thomas Beecham (1947), despite many impressive moments.
Saint-Saëns’s Concerto was the piece Rubinstein chose for both his Paris and his Carnegie Hall debuts. He plays to the manner born. His approach is not as light as Aldo Ciccolini (with Serge Baudo on EMI) – it is as if he wants us to take this music more seriously than we normally do. There is plenty of give and take to the first movement (marked Andante sostenuto) and passages of the utmost delicacy. The Allegro scherzando (the second movement) sparkles magnificently. This concerto provides the highlight of this disc. Rudolf Schwarz studied with Richard Strauss and Hans Gál.
Villa-Lobos’s Polichinello, finds Rubinstein on full virtuoso form. And his ‘home turf’ of Chopin closes the disc, though, and immediately we move up to a different level. The left-hand melody of the Étude sings like a cello, while the designated ‘encore’, the B flat minor Scherzo – the one stereo item – is unbuttoned Rubinstein. Fire jets from his fingers in furious fortes, and this same fire underpins the more lyrical sections. Be warned there is some (very) premature applause around 1’36” (and an immediate ‘shush’ as a rejoinder!). This is muscular Chopin and edge-of-seat exciting.