Reviews

GHCD 2355 – Rubinstein & Mitropoulos – Carnegie Hall 1953

Arthur Rubinstein – piano, New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos

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CRC Autumn 2009

This seemingly complete if short concert – maybe it was tailored to broadcast purposes – begins with an atmospheric account of the Borodin, with the New York Philharmonic’s woodwinds and horns in fine fettle, and Dimitri Mitropoulos setting an ideal (quite languorous) tempo and investing heartfelt intensity, the strings responding in kind. This glowing performance is complemented by the closing Scriabin, a fluid, hothouse account that once again showcases a great orchestra in top form – not least in the cameos from principal trumpet and the Leader. Mitropoulos captures both the score’s ebb and flow and its orgasmic inevitability. Although the Sound is understandably limited, it is also well detailed and very capably remastered, and presents no barrier to appreciating a vivid and thrilling account. Rubinstein makes two contributions in music of which he made commercial recordings. His bravura at the opening of the Saint-Satins is a little splashy, and a little too obvious in terms of showmanship (the latter could also be said of the finale). One can appreciate the Charisma of his playing but may also wish that it went a little deeper; yet he plays Saint-Saens’s music with understandable affection if, an this occasion, with not quite the insouciance that was achieved in the studio versions (the second movement requires greater poise). The Franck is more successful and is thoughtfully laid-out by the musicians, Rubinstein being agreeably lyrical, mercurial and witty, and in both these Rubinstein performances Mitropoulos and the NYPO are sympathetic and characterful. This release is recommended for the Borodin, Franck and Scriabin.
Colin Anderson

MusicWeb International Tuesday August 11th 2009

Great artists working together …
This is a most welcome issue of a complete concert, one of the Sunday afternoon NYPO broadcast shows, I suppose, to judge by the duration. Live recordings of Mitropoulos are appearing from various sources these days and this one is most welcome in that growing catalogue.

Although the sound is quite fierce at the start of the Borodin by the time we reach the concerto it has settled down. It is very good, considering the source material used – second generation transcription discs, digitally remastered – and there is some fine music-making on offer.

Borodin’s musical picture is a delicate flower, a single tune going round and round in a languorous way – if one can be languorous whilst in the steppes of central Asia. Absolutely nothing is happening: the music simply seems to hang in the air. This performance is straightforward and without incident, just as it should be, but there is a feeling of detachment about the interpretation. Perhaps conductor and orchestra hadn’t warmed up sufficiently.

They certainly had by the time Rubinstein joined them for the Concerto. I have long enjoyed Rubinstein’s 1958 recording of this work with the Symphony of the Air conducted by Alfred Wallenstein (RCA Victor Red Seal 63053, coupled with the Schumann and Liszt No.1) but this performance, and interpretation, is better, due to the fact that it is live … and very alive! The opening solo fantasia is more baroque in feel, surely exactly what the composer wanted, and the short orchestral interjections are less forced. The middle movement dance is a delight, some lovely use of rubato, sparkling runs and never over-emphasised phrasing of the chordal passages. It’s easy to understand why the audience bursts into spontaneous applause at the end. The finale is taken at breakneck speed but neither soloist nor orchestra puts a finger wrong. It’s a wonderful performance and it’s well worth buying this disk purely for this performance. Incidentally, whilst the opening was all baroque filigree this finale is pure Beethovenian frenzy.

Franck’s Symphonic Variations receives a big performance, Rubinstein treating it as a real Concerto movement, and it works very well because so often, in other hands, this work can sound rather sad and forlorn – simply because it isn’t a Concerto movement! In this performance it’s bright and breezy, a bit hard-driven perhaps but it’s none the worse for that. There’s poetry when necessary and a lovely light feel to the final variation.

Scriabin’s Poème de l’Extase receives a hothouse performance from Mitropoulos and his band. They go all out to make this something special and in the hall it must have been overwhelming. It’s incredible that this recording contains the sound as well as it does, but with the orchestral image somewhat recessed the big climaxes, and this work has a few, never overpower the microphones and thus we get a fair representation of the performance. The work cannot have been well known to the players but they rise to the challenge and give a fine performance.

This disk is a valuable document containing, as it does, a complete concert in good sound. Guild has really taken a lead in reissues of older material – think of their marvellous light music series – and it is to be thanked for making available to us such fine music-making. Making this a special event is a fine note by Robert Matthew–Walker in the booklet. I do not see that this is just for the collector with an interest in historical performance, for it is too good to be consigned to the shelf of the few. Everybody should hear these great artists working together for the sake of their musical souls.
Bob Briggs


Audiophile Audition Tuesday April 15th 2009

The complete Carnegie Hall concert of 19 April 1953 from the New York Philharmonic features conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) with pianist Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) in French (and Belgian) and Russian repertory. Though had collaborated on the Tchaikovsky Concerto for RCA Victor during Mitropoulos’ tenure with the Minneapolis Symphony, his subsequent appointment with the Philharmonic made Mitropoulos a CBS artist, which precluded further commercial inscriptions. Rubinstein went on to record the Saint-Saens G Minor, his only staple from this composer’s five concertos, with Alfred Wallenstein and later, Eugene Ormandy. Rubinstein enjoyed a thorough and consistent triumph with this display piece–which he first took on in 1905–which ranges from Bach imitation to the rogueries of the Parisian beer hall. This live concert had been issued some years ago through the pirate AS Disc label, but this Guild transfer by Peter Reynolds recommends itself without reservation.

It is no small coincidence that Mitropoulos had studied with Saint-Saens in Paris, and he championed the composer’s works with his usual, feverish commitment. If the Saint-Saens glows with natural panache, especially in the two latter movements–the scherzando (after Chopin’s E Major Scherzo) that gleans its own applause from the rapt audience–and the wild tarantella, whose final pages threaten to burst into happy flames, the Franck pulsates with a measured, athletic sense of form. The last section, a kind of voluptuous tango or rumba, provides no end of color effects from Rubinstein and the fiery Greek. Always in a Mitropoulos reading co-exist two elements, sensuality and tragedy.  The agonized sound Mitropoulos elicits from his string section – a grueling, inverted pedal in the Borodin – expands to a beautifully choreographed interweaving of the two main themes that lull us into oriental reveries. Those “fugitive visions” assume epic, erotic proportions in the Scriabin, the composer’s fourth symphony. The trumpet part (likely James Vacchiano) emerges from a welter of superheated flesh-tones, muted strings and harp, as though Astarte were unveiling before our eyes. Wagner here becomes cross-fertilized by Russian mysticism and the Symbolist poets. By the time we negotiate the last, dying chords of this elegantly wrought piece, we can hardly fathom that the program lasted barely one hour, so spent are our powers to grasp a vision of cosmic fertility.
Gary Lemco