Tchaikovsky, Schumann

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann,Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto in A minor
PERFORMER: Artur Rubinstein (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini, BBC SO/ Rudolf Schwarz
These two concertos were staples of Artur Rubinstein’s repertoire, so much so that he left three studio recordings of each. Despite numerous virtues in those official versions, these live performances – notwithstanding occasional thickets of inaccuracy (hardly excessive in number and in no way eclipsing technical aplomb) – provide interpretative statements that are at least as communicative and well rounded. This 1961 recording of the Tchaikovsky First is especially valuable – the recorded sound admirably captures the veiled intensity and nobility of Rubinstein’s tone at the beginning of the second movement, and the pianist dispatches purling figuration with a greater sense of ease and fluidity than was often the case (even his famously athletic 1932 recording under Barbirolli sounds more hectic). Carlo Maria Giulini’s support may be stiff in the finale’s wild Slavic outbursts, but his humane approach does not preclude flair and excitement. Even so, Martha Argerich’s surging, electrifying recording (with Claudio Abbado) makes for a more scintillating benchmark version. I prefer this 1957 performance of the Schumann Concerto under Rudolf Schwarz to either of Rubinstein’s stereo recordings – Josef Krips in 1958 is picky and fragmented, while Giulini’s sustained lyricism in 1967 derails the pianist’s natural directness. Under Schwarz, Rubinstein seems especially committed to making the finale exciting and clear-toned, but surely the Perahia/Abbado collaboration achieves a more thoroughly realised interpretation. Filling out this welcome disc is a 1973 interview with Michael Oliver, interesting for displaying Rubinstein’s legendary charm but unintentionally entertaining for his way of finding an economic angle to most of the questions. David Breckbill