Arthur Rubinstein

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 "Emperor"; Piano Concerto No. 2

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Pianist Arthur Rubinstein uses some of the oldest tricks in the book to cover the fact that at the age of 88 he was too old to play Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto: he over-pedals through all the fast passages, slows way down for double-octaves, and plays far louder then called for at every opportunity. It is not enough to save it. Rubinstein slides through syncopations, smears sixteenths, and skips over leaps. Even more than in his recordings in the '50s and '60s, Rubinstein slaps chords, minces octaves, and bludgeons the big themes thereby creating an arch and affected performance that verges on parody.

Conductor Daniel Barenboim uses some of the oldest tricks in the book to cover the painful fact that Rubinstein was too old to play the "Emperor": he encourages sloppier attacks and releases, particularly in pianissimo pizzicato passages; he allows slack string playing, blasted brass playing, and woodwind playing of uncertain tone and vague color, especially in tutti fortissimo passages; and he loosens the tempos to follow Rubinstein wherever he may happen to go. Whatever Barenboim's flaws as a conductor, he was always a sensitive accompanist and he willingly molds the tubby but flexible London Philharmonic to Rubinstein's affected performance.

Producer Max Wilcox uses some of the oldest tricks in the book to cover Rubinstein's performances: he places piano and orchestra in an empty hall and sets the microphones so far back that the echo dampens the climaxes, blurs the details, and dulls the immediacy. As good as Rubinstein could sound at 88, he does in this recording.

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