Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Recordings by Arthur Rubinstein

Oh, how I wish I have the extra cash!

SONY Classics is announcing the release of Arthur Rubinstein – the Complete Album Collection. According to the product description on Amazon, this is a collection of 142 CD’s, absolutely everything that the pianist ever recorded. From the earliest recordings the pianist made for HMV in England from 1928 to 1940, to the incredible series of recordings he did for RCA Victor until he retired from the concert stage. This collection will be even more comprehensive than The Arthur Rubinstein Collection, released about a decade ago by BMG Classics, which consisted of only about 80 plus CD’s. The collection includes two Carnegie Hall concerts that Mr. Rubinstein gave in 1961. At risk of sounding like a television infomercial, you also get a DVD of Rubinstein Remembered, a PBS documentary on the great pianist, and a 164-page hardcover book. It can all be yours for a little over $300.

I did not have the good fortune of hearing Mr. Rubinstein in concert, but I do remember the excitement every time a new recording of his came out. To be truthful, I do already own quite a number of the pianist’s recordings on compact discs – part of the aforementioned The Arthur Rubinstein Collection. Listening to those recordings now, I continue to be moved by Mr. Rubinstein’s interpretation and playing. For a discography that is as vast as that of Arthur Rubinstein, there will be many highlights. There are of course the pianists many recordings of the works of Chopin, many of which he recorded more than once. In addition, Mr. Rubinstein made some of the most beautiful recordings of both the concerti and solo works of Johannes Brahms. There are some surprises as well, such as his only recording of George Gershwin’s Second Prelude.

Fortunately for us, Mr. Rubinstein was actively recording at a time when the market was not saturated with dozens or more recordings of the same work. Therefore, there are pieces that the pianist was able to re-record, sometimes three or four times. Listening to the same pieces played at different stages of the pianist’s career afford us a glimpse into his artistic development as well as his insights into many of these musical masterpieces. One thing that I do notice is that the young Mr. Rubinstein played with a great deal more freedom than he did in his later years. If I have one criticism of the later recordings, it is that sometimes he played a shade too carefully.

Mr. Rubinstein was different from many virtuoso of his generation in his devotion to chamber music playing. He has, from his earliest years, played chamber music with some of the greatest string players of the century. In his discography, there are many wonderful performances of sonatas, piano trios, quartets and quintets by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Dvorak, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky. He had a long term relationship with the Guarneri String Quartet, and many concerts and recordings emerged from that friendship.

In an age where the performer often receives more attention than the composer, or even the music, Mr. Rubinstein’s many beautiful recordings remind us of a time when the performer, however great his or her talents, work to serve the music. When he was listening to playbacks of music that he had just recorded, Mr. Rubinstein often said that was a time for him to “take his lesson.” Those who have worked with him, from his fellow performers to recording engineers, often commented upon his complete humility in the face of the composer and the music. Perhaps because of this, we hear a playing that is both simple and direct, and always beautiful.

I might just break open that piggy bank under my bed and see if what is there…

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