BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 – Artur Rubinstein, piano/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Pristine Audio PASC 165, 30:38 [www.pristineclassical.com] ***:
The year 1947 proved a banner year for Sir Thomas Beecham insofar as the recording studio is concerned, since Beecham was eager to commit to discs his recently-formed Royal Philharmonic in as much of the repertory as possible. Although Beethoven did not appeal to Beecham with the same ardor he maintained for Mozart, Handel, and Delius, this collaboration with Artur Rubinstein (30 September 1947) won critical acclaim for its facile lyricism, aided in part by Rubinstein’s unusual choice of the Saint-Saens cadenzas, which in the first movement might be construed as too long.
The cleanliness of sound through Andrew Rose’s XR remastering complements the suave elegance of Rubinstein’s playing, which likes the cascades, roulades, and runs that make this concerto Beethoven’s “Aeolian harp” of his five essays in the form. Rubinstein carefully ingratiates the second subject, which relieves us of the “fate” motif which aligns this piece, by contrast, to the Fifth Symphony. A reviewer of the period remarked on the firm line in the basses at bars 55-58. The second movement moves a bit briskly for my taste, though the playing avoids becoming glib or perfunctory. I recall owning the RCA LP transfer of this rendering (LVT 1032) and noting the rather distant, washed-out quality of the sound. Here, the patina is brightly ambient, the colors from piano and orchestra unfolding naturally, belying the 60 years that have passed since these artists worked together. The last movement bristles with excitement, plastic, polished in a way that allows the second cadenza its rhetoric without projecting mannered artifice.
In sum, a happy meeting of two distinctly individual performers who found a common ground in the G Major Concerto. Though other collaborations may vaunt more drama in this piece, few will equal the elated sensibility of this grand tour, realized by bon vivants of the spirit.
— Gary Lemco