BBC Legends BBCL 4187-2, 76:38 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
Vintage Artur Rubinstein (1887-1882), here captured playing the music of his favorite composers, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Mozart. The Brahms (4 December 1968) D Minor Concerto, which Rubinstein inscribed brilliantly in 1954 with Fritz Reiner for commercial distribution, here finds an even broader canvas, the palette from the orchestra more sharply focused, as are the coughs. Davis’ contribution, especially from his tympanist, is little short of sensational, building to a terrific peroration after the quasi-waltz impulse to the recapitulation of the opening theme, the fate motif. Rubinstein, almost 83 at the time, embodies the old dictum that energy feeds on activity. His playing is lucid, naturally phrased, powerful and lyrically songful at once. The French horn work is superb. The brief cadenza before the coda material seethes with passion, then hurtles like the proverbial suicide to the sidewalk. How the audience kept from clapping at the conclusion of the first movement can only be attributed to superhuman restraint.
The Adagio, a combination of elements meant originally for the composer’s Requiem, receives a collaboration of classical simplicity, chamber music which suddenly surges with tragic despair. Rubinstein conceives his part as an extended intermezzo rendered as a fine Schumannesque jewel. A bit of false start into the headlong Rondo which, once the momentum sets in, communicates dramatic power, lirico spinto. The Rubinstein soaring piano tone continues to beguile. The BBC French horn accompanies beautifully. Polyphony and shades of Bach later, the aggression reminds us just how eternally youthful Rubinstein’s temperament was. That aforementioned restraint from the audience disappears into a frenzied outburst of unbridled appreciation at the last chord.
Mozart A Major Piano Concerto commanded Rubinstein’s attention more than any other concerto in his repertory. This performance (13 July 1962) basks in an easy, sensual delight in Mozart’s figures. Even the F Sharp Minor Adagio does not fall into sentimentality. Instead, piano and orchestra savor the other’s contribution, the ECO strings and winds are particularly warm and bubbly. Rubinstein permits a degree of Romantic ethos to permeate his chiseled phrasing, the arpeggios themselves communicating a lush patina, and the block chords enjoy a robust sonority. By the last movement, Rubinstein is thoroughly in his con brio element, lavishing the heroic optimism in generous helpings. That Rubinstein could still yield a bravura, virtuoso rendition in creamy style testifies to a technique and musical spirit that would not quit.
— Gary Lemco