CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor – Arthur Rubinstein, p./New Sym. Orch. of London/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (1); Sym. of the Air/Alfred Wallenstein (2) – RCA Red Seal/BMG

by | Sep 14, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor; Piano Concerto No. 2
in F Minor – Arthur Rubinstein, p./New Sym. Orch. of London/Stanislaw
Skrowaczewski (1); Sym. of the Air/Alfred Wallenstein (2) – RCA Red
Seal/BMG two and three-channel SACD 82876-67902-2, 70:45 ****:

Mention Rubinstein to most collectors and music lovers and they would
probably think simultaneously of Chopin. The composer was a lifelong
specialty of the great pianist, and on this capacious SACD he performs
the two youthful piano concertos of the Polish master. The Second
Concerto was taped in l958 – before RCA settled definitely on their
later policy of recorded to three channel half-inch tape and then later
mixing down to two channels for LP release.  Therefore it employed
only two tracks.  Whether two or three, each channel was fed by a
single separate mono mike preamp.  You might say RCA approached
this with true tweaky high end standards, and we hear the superb
results 47 years later via SACD remastering. The First Concerto
recording is three-channel and dates from June 1961 in the
highly-desired acoustics of Walthamstow Town Hall in London.

The order of going from three back to two channels is really backwards
here, because Chopin’s F Minor was his first concerto – it just
happened to be published second. These works came from Chopin’s teens –
long before the composer began to create his unique piano miniatures
that have ensured his fame, and in fact they stand as his largest
concert works. Critics felt that the orchestral backing was not
Chopin’s forte and various people have tried to improve his scoring
over the years.  What we hear now is back to pretty much what the
composer originally wrote; it may not be Rimsky-Korsakov but it puts
the focus on the piano part, which is after all the right thing to do.
The haunting theme of the Second Concerto’s Larghetto middle movement
is a musical love letter to a young woman Chopin admired from afar,
Constantia.

Comparison of the two and three-channel recordings of similar fare may
not sound that different if you are sitting in your sweet spot in front
of the speakers.  However, try moving a few feet to your left or
right during your comparisons.  You will find credence added to
the claim of Tom Holman and his ilk that the center channel greatly
enlarges the sweet spot.

– John Sunier

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