Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Historically important, but less convincing with passing years...

Chopin/Piano Concerto #1 & 2 (SHM)
Chopin/Piano Concertos #1 & 2

By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)      
This version of Chopin's First Concerto (composed after, but published before the Second Concerto) is the most successful of Rubinstein's recorded attempts, partly thanks to the sensitive accompaniment of the New London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. Tempos are well-judged, phrasing is supple and natural, virtuosity is there, but not for its own sake. The sound on the original LP and the first CD issue was plagued by dropouts at the beginning of the Concerto--these have been smoothed over remarkably. Balance between orchestra and piano has also been improved. As a caveat, it must be mentioned that Rubinstein makes a cut in the first movement introduction that was apparently standard at the time.

Rubinstein made no fewer than four recordings of Chopin's popular Second Concerto (there is an additional, filmed, performance from 1975). The pianist's conception of the piece changed over the course of his career, from the brilliant, scintillating, and somewhat sectionalized playing of his early years, to the more mellow, mature, and structurally minded performance heard here. Rubinstein, 81 at the time of this recording, is occasionally cautious during the concerto's more demanding passages, uses less rubato, and less pedal than in his earlier recordings. Eugene Ormandy proves a most sympathetic accompanist here, even accommodating Rubinstein's rather questionable changes to Chopin's text: Rubinstein ordered a cut at the end of the first movement, and the violins in the mazurka episode of the finale play the passages with their bows, rather than sul ponticello (with the wood) as Chopin indicated. The sound here is full and natural.

The cover has been adapted from the original LP cover for the First Concerto. These are beautiful and historically important performances. But I would not want to be without Krystian Zimerman's (Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2) or Vassily Primakov's (Primakov Plays Chopin Piano Concertos) more recent recordings, which I frankly turn to more often.

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