Review By Jonathan Woolf,MusicWeb International,November 2008
Rubinstein’s 1946 Carnegie Hall recording of the C minor concerto is one of the fastest on record; I can’t say the fastest because I’m in no position to have heard them all. It’s certainly quicker than the composer’s own electric recording with Stokowski though roughly on a par with the 1924 late acoustic they made together. Even here however Rubinstein is quite a bit quicker in the finale. The effect is one of intense excitement and engagement, sprinkled with a number of the pianist’s own textual emendations, and given the notorious microphone placement on which he insisted the result is a blockbusting, visceral and very up-front traversal. Rubinstein refuses almost all offers to linger, preferring instead a valiant, almost defiant
What does emerge strongly in this performance is Rubinstein’s approach to elements of Rachmaninoff’s writing that others can elide, especially audible—given the nature of the recording—in the slow movement. I found his playing here at its best, though the recording sabotages string counter themes and wind lines rather ruinously; even the horns suffer badly. But the compensations are once again linear and decisive, qualities that reappear in the finale. Moiseiwitsch’s slightly earlier performance of this clocked in at 11:24—and he was no slouch; Rubinstein dispatches his finale in 9:58.
The Rhapsody is better balanced. He also had a better orchestra than the NBC in the form of the Philharmonia and a better accompanist than Golschmann in Walter Susskind. Still it’s again a vivaciously phrased and again very powerful, no prisoners type of performance. The pianist’s chording is dynamic and ringing, the horns sound resplendent. The winds etch their lines with powerful personality. For all the élan things don’t sound breathless as they could in the concerto. The tempo here is on a par with Moiseiwitsch’s. A 1950 C sharp minor Prelude makes a formidable, if perhaps inevitable ‘encore’—Rubinstein’s only commercial recording of a solo piece by the composer.
In conclusion there’s quite a bit under an hour of well annotated and expertly transferred Rubinstein-Rachmaninoff here. Powerful, graphically pictorial and directional; intensely dramatic, sometimes uncomfortably so.
Review By Rob Maynard,MusicWeb International,August 2008
Whatever the reason for Rubinstein’s remarkably careless approach, it inevitably means that this performance cannot be regarded as an authoritative account, either of the concerto itself or of Rubinstein’s artistry. It is, in fact, far better listened to as if it were a recording of how the pianist might have given an exciting one-off live performance, warts and all. And, let me concede at once, this is a very thrilling account that, with fast tempos throughout, would have had a real audience, no doubt mentally singing along to “Full moon and empty arms” [Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman’s hit popular song for Frank Sinatra based on the concerto’s big tune], jumping out of their seats with enthusiasm. …The artistic result [for the op.43
What was quite rightly picked up by reviewers at the time, however, was the excellent quality of the recorded sound from Abbey Road Studio no.1. One critic, quoted in Jonathan Summers’s very useful notes, rated it as “[s]tunning! ... almost too vivid … larger than life … I really had to go outside on the landing, where I liked it still better” and then suggested that this recording might even mark the point where “recorders are reaching the limit of what one can stand in the ordinary small drawing-room”. Apparently rather frightened by that, the records show that EMI engineers made a note to “reduce level of dangerous passages” before the discs were released!
Rubinstein only ever recorded one of Rachmaninoff’s solo piano pieces—the C sharp minor Prelude—and the version we have here was his second attempt. Again, it is a perfectly fine interpretation but not one to pick off the shelves in preference to many others. As an encore here, though. it does its job well.
Given, though, that, taken together, the concerto and the Rhapsody clock in at less than 52 minutes, ought we to have been expecting something more substantial than just an encore at that point? I know that this is a bargain price disc—but does a bargain cease to be a real one if the product itself is, unlike that Sinatra moon, not much more than half full?
Review By Gary Lemco,Audiophile Audition,June 2008
Though many collectors already own the RCA Rubinstein Edition, they may gravitate to these restored-sound inscriptions made possible through Mark Obert-Thorn and the Naxos label. Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) played relatively little Rachmaninov, considering the vast scope of his repertory, but he did inscribe the C Minor Concerto four times, and this, from 27 May 1946 at Carnegie Hall, features some fast tempos and luxuriant tone. Working with the amiable Vladimir Golschmann (1893-1972), Rubinstein finds a conductor who accommodates the several deviations from the composer’s text, especially as the left-hand part of the last movement often eludes Rubinstein’s technique. In the 1950s, Rubinstein encountered similar problems in recording Rachmaninov with Fritz Reiner, and
The Rhapsody recording dates from 16-17 September 1947 for HMV on Abbey Road, evincing a high level of sound from the keyboard, upon which Rubinstein insisted. Rubinstein takes the three major sections of the Rhapsody rather programmatically, as a developing love-scene of the great violinist, who celebrates his dazzling technique, his amatory potential, and his contest with the forces of death. Despite the several takes required to complete the project, the performance proceeds seamlessly with its edits, the elan, speed, and excitement of the realization primary. The justly famous 18th Variation becomes a paean to both Rubinstein and the composer’s ability to find dazzling melody in an inversion of the A Minor Caprice. The equally ubiquitous Prelude in C-sharp Minor, the one solo piece by the composer Rubinstein recorded (twice, once in 1936 and this from 11 December 1950) is enjoys a taut, fast-paced lyricism, what Rubinstein once characterized as “brazen sweetness.”