Vintage restorations, 1962-1963, in pungent sound (originally 3-track) from Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982), the eternal bon-vivant of the keyboard. Rubinstein’s relationship to Beethoven on records remains highly specialized; besides the four sonatas given here, he approached only the E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3 and the C Major, Op. 2, No. 3. Rubinstein, whom one critic called “a great virtuoso from the neck down,” does not over-intellectualize the composer; the playing is straightforward and unmannered, optimistic and plastic. There are occasional ritards, as in the rhythm of the Allegretto of the Moonlight Sonata, and the secondary theme of the Allegro di molto e con brio opening of the Pathetique. Good channel separation in the development section of the movement, the descending scale in the left hand well delineated. The piano tone is very bright, and the upper register vibrates with a nervous ping in the Les Adieux finale.
Rubinstein’s Adagio cantabile for the Pathetique sounds like a transposition of Chopin’s E Major Etude, Op. 10, No. 3, except their respective middle sections differ in temperament. Auditors will relish, as did Rubinstein, Beethoven’s supple application of rhythm and harmony, and the Rubinstein piano tone never fails to charm. Rubinstein’s fingers are in good form, too; the last movement of the Moonlight does not stint on bravura, nor the opening of the Les Adieux on explosive drama. Nice, delicate filigree in the last movement of the Pathetique, the brief moments of counterpoint clear and shaped always to the singing line. When the damper pedal is applied, the sound becomes Rubinstein velvet.
The Appassionata by Rubinstein may not suit all tastes. Dramatic contrasts are not so demonized as they are in readings by Richter and even Solomon. The impulse is lyric, Neapolitan rather than titanic, and the emergence of the A-flat Major theme in the opening movement is Rubinstein’s arioso at its best, as are the variations of the Andante con moto. The last movement in true master-tape sound plays like an etude in plastic sonority, the contrast between arpeggiated and broken chords. Some may find Rubsinstein too precious in his touch and articulation, but his admirers will laud the eminent songfulness of the reading. A bit breathless for the final march and whirlwind coda, but Rubinstein conveys the emotional tornado Beethoven could command when the Muse was upon him.