Classical Reissue Reviews

Arthur Rubinstein = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in C Major; RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales; CHOPIN: Nocturne in D-flat Major; Ballade No. 1; Bonus: Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante – Arthur Rubenstein, p. – ICA Classics

Arthur Rubinstein offers a vividly colorful program from London, his patented heroic sonority in full regalia.

Published on February 23, 2013

Arthur Rubinstein = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in C Major; RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales; CHOPIN: Nocturne in D-flat Major; Ballade No. 1; Bonus: Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante – Arthur Rubenstein, p. – ICA Classics

Arthur Rubinstein = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3; RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales; CHOPIN: Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2; Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23; Bonus: Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22 – Arthur Rubenstein, p. – ICA Classics ICAC 5095, 73:00 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Entirely new to the CD medium comes a 17 March 1963 British studio recital by the legendary Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982), whose charisma at the keyboard set a standard of consistent musicality and beguiling lyricism for three generations. Rubinstein’s tonal beauty remained the envy of his colleagues: American virtuoso William Kapell, himself no weakling at the piano, proclaimed the Rubinstein tone as his model par excellence. Always Rubinstein made the piano a singing instrument, and in recitals he focused on one or two audience members to insure that the level of musical communication possessed an intimate point of contact. Luminosity, grace, and a “naïve” capacity to allow the music to speak for itself counted high among the multifarious Rubinstein virtues, supported by an exuberant élan at the gift of making music he truly enjoyed.

Only a handful of Beethoven piano sonatas comprised the Rubinstein solo piano repertory, and so a grandly mounted 1796 C Major Sonata reveals a virtuoso vehicle couched in classical procedures. For the first movement Allegro con brio, Rubinstein instills a high polish and fervent gloss, with well-articulated trills and solid landings on cadences. Rubinstein makes a point of dramatizing Beethoven’s digressions away from the expected G Major dominant and into G Minor and the misleading “recapitulation” in D Major that will eventually find C, but not before a wallop from an A Major chord.
Rubinstein typically presents adagios with tender significance: no exception here, in which Beethoven exploits a lovely chorale-like tune in E Major and E Minor. A rondo of sorts, the movement provides an emotional heart for a piece otherwise modeled after Haydn but here emphatic and nuanced with particular romantic color. Rubinstein asserts strong accents in the Scherzo, a brisk, frisky (even canonic) romp that gravitates between C Major and C Minor. Light feet realize Beethoven’s hearty intentions for the Allegro assai, with Rubinstein’s tossing off pearly runs and contrary-motion scales with warm authority.

Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) constitutes the major Ravel in Rubinstein’s repertory, since he did not perform Gaspard e la Nuit, at least not on records. Taking his cue from Franz Schubert, Ravel called his opera the “delicious and ageless pleasure of a useless occupation.” Rubinstein accords each of the eight dances an easy glittering grace, marked by their slightly askew chordal progressions and pearly runs. Despite their angular and perhaps ironic sensibility, Claude Debussy recognized their collective greatness, stating they were the product of “the subtlest ear that ever existed.”

The program concludes with three Chopin works well familiar to the Rubinstein legacy, of which the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E-flat Major provides a “bonus” from a session 17 March 1963. After the pointillistic sonorities in Ravel, the Chopin D-flat Major Nocturne sounds like the peal of comforting bells and chimes, realized by a temperament at once refined and exquisitely sensual. The G Minor Ballade, whether conceived as program music after Mickiewicz or as absolute music in a Neapolitan sensibility, has for Rubinstein great poise and suave dramatic transitions. The little waltz that becomes self-obsessive achieves a haunted mystery in Rubinstein’s playing, plastic and rife with explosive tension. Rubinstein negotiates its tricky metric shifts and double octaves with a debonair grace whose lyrical component, ever, leaves us singing even if we may have wept along the way. The 1831 Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise can easily assimilate its sketchy symphonic part into the keyboard’s capacity for fanfare, and Rubinstein grants us full orchestral sonority when required. The opening 6/8 tranquillo in G certainly conveys poise in an extended nocturne or quasi barcarolle; the spirited polonaise allows Rubinstein his majestic, long line. The E-flat Polonaise fuses variation technique and rondo form, and Rubinstein instills a sense of the heroic into the stately marcato variation. A true joie de vivre saturates the performance, and we can appreciate Rubinstein’s fertile sound and capacity for living colors.

—Gary Lemco

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