Arthur Rubinstein

Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 2; Liszt: Concerto No. 1

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Oddly enough, Arthur Rubinstein is better in the Rachmaninov Second Concerto recorded on January 9, 1956, than he is in the Liszt First Concerto recorded a month later on February 12, 1956. If forced to speculate, one might suppose that the conductor made the difference. Rubinstein's accompanist in the Rachmaninov was Fritz Reiner, an old-style tyrant of the podium who probably strong-armed the passive-aggressive Polish pianist into getting at least some of the notes right. Rubinstein's accompanist in the Liszt was Alfred Wallenstein, an old-fashioned suck-up who probably agreed to anything the pianist wanted. In the Rachmaninov, Rubinstein plays with his usual simpering tone and superficial technique, but perhaps because he knew Reiner wouldn't use the Chicago Symphony to cover his flubs, Rubinstein stays on his toes and doesn't try for anything he can't do. While the result is a restrained and reserved performance of a piece that lives for the bloodsport of virtuoso performances, at least it's not Rubinstein's standard bloodbath of dropped notes. In the Liszt, however, Rubinstein plays with his usual simpering tone and superficial technique but, perhaps because Wallenstein was hired by RCA to accompany him with as little perceptible personality as possible, Rubinstein drops more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee ant hill. His octaves are a mass of missed notes. His scales are a mess of slipped notes. His chords are bundles of slapped notes. And in JVC's stunning remastering of RCA's staggering original sound, all of Rubinstein's gaffes are on display for anyone to hear.

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