"Rubinstein was the ultimate concert pianist. He played 100-plus engagements a year for some seven decades. Even as an old man he had ten recital programs and twenty concertos at his fingertips. For half a century he maintained a busy recording schedule, ranging from Mozart to Villa-Lobos and including a full dose of chamber music. He was the Caruso of the keyboard, the Babe Ruth of the 88s.
Sure enough, back in the early 1940s American critic/composer Virgil Thomson headlined him as the "King of Pianists," and Rubinstein wore that crown for the next 35 years. Other big names made periodic splashes (Gilels, Richter, Cliburn, Gould) or emerged briefly from hiding (Horowitz, Michelangeli), but when the dust settled Rubinstein still sat on the throne. "Nobody will put up much of an argument," the N.Y. Times' Harold C. Schonberg once wrote, "when he's called the greatest living pianist." Yet in his day he was such a familiar and accessible commodity, listeners seldom pondered exactly where his superiority lay.
It was simple enough. As Lauritz Melchior was the greatest of heldentenors, Rubinstein was the preeminent "heldenpianist." Boasting both an enormous dynamic range and phenomenal stamina, he could play not only long seasons but heavy heroic programs (e.g., both Brahms concertos at one sitting). He was renowned for his deep full tone, his cataclysmic volume, his velvet cantilenas, his huge declamatory octaves. Rubinstein came honestly by it all: after a youthful brush with repetitive stress syndrome, he adopted a temperate practice regimen and developed one of the most efficient virtuoso mechanisms in the history of his instrument. Its foundation was a centered posture, participation of the entire torso, and exceptional lateral mobility; working strictly with moderate-action instruments, he could dig deep into the keys.
It's significant, then, that the end came for him not from fading fingers but failing eyesight--macular degeneration. His frontal vision suddenly went, and it was enough to take the edge off his accuracy and reliability. He prudently retired. At age 89.
Luckily the present video (three Rubinstein blockbusters--the Grieg concerto, Chopin's Concerto No. 2, Saint-Saens' Concerto No. 2) had been taped some months earlier on April 22-24, 1975. Of the assorted Rubinstein DVDs currently on the market, this is easily the most cherishable. Not surprisingly, picture and sound are far superior to the 1990 VHS release, and by any criteria this is first-rate analog stereo--though the piano is appreciably forward, sometimes upstaging the string tremolos in the Chopin middle movement. As for the picture, it's in plush technicolor: the camera favors both left and right profiles as Rubinstein digs in, close-ups of his hands ditto, head shots are framed by the piano lid. Previn and individual deskmen enjoy occasional close-ups as well, but the full orchestra is on view only from the rear of the hall.
With Previn and the LSO providing elegantly phrased backup, the performances themselves are invaluable. These, literally, are Rubinstein's final thoughts on a trio of audience favorites he'd performed over many decades (three-quarters of a century in the case of the Saint-Saens). Even at 88 he's easily equal to the stiff technical demands (cleaner and firmer with Chopin's passagework than in his Philadelphia recording seven years before). Unforgettable moments abound in each of these performances: tempos are generally more spacious than earlier, with the expected gains in precision and clarity; he's more economical, too, with half tints and pedal washes in cantabile passages, but the arching phrases and tapered cadences are as eloquent as ever. Astonishingly, his fortissimos are still colossal in the big Grieg cadenza, and the old man can still burn up the tracks in the finale of the Saint-Saens.
Further, and maybe even more affecting, Rubinstein was still reconsidering, still revising, still working on things. Here, for instance, you'll find the most intensely operatic of all his readings of the Chopin Larghetto--sharply phrased, stinging in the filigree, downright ferocious in the central recitative, ultimately turning gentle and nocturnal in the recap.
Finally there's a splendid bonus: a 29-minute conversation with PBS newscaster Bob MacNeil, recorded in the late 1970s after Rubinstein's retirement. The pianist tackles a range of material with humor and shrewdness: communicating with popular audiences, producing his famous sound, his concept of God, life after death. It's easily the most articulate and stimulating interview I've heard him give.
So this DVD paints the regal close of a colossal reign: as indicated, the bonus is a delight, and you'll never hear more opulent, more exhilarating performances of these three pet concertos. Heartily recommended for all viewers. Including folks who normally avoid classical music. "
It's nice to see this film again
Alan Majeska | Bad Axe, MI, USA | 08/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I watched this 1975 film presentation of Artur Rubinstein playing the Grieg A minor, Chopin F minor (No. 2) and Saint Saens G minor (No. 2) Piano concertos with Andre Previn and the London Symphony on PBS television in 1978. DG's release of this on DVD is cause for rejoicing, as the picture and sound are both restored using the near miracles 2006 technology can perform on 30+ year old film and audio soundtracks.
The sound is rich and full, and beautifully balanced between pianist Rubinstein and the great London orchestra. This was recorded without audience present in Croydon, England, and the effect is rather intimate, despite the large orchestral forces required for these three concertos.
Camera work is likewise excellent and serves the music: when a passage is played by a solo flute, oboe, french horn, etc. the camera shows the given soloist within the orchestra, or Mr. Rubinstein himself. There are enough shots of Andre Previn conducting, who is in sync with Rubinstein at every turn. Previn's conducting style is graceful, but never demonstrative, and he does not call attention to himself. The camera work is never a distraction from the performance.
If you are an Artur Rubinstein fan, get this. These recordings were made in 1975, when Mr. Rubinstein was 88 years old. His technique and musicianship remained rock solid, even 2 years short of age 90.
There is a valuable 30 minute interview with Robert MacNeil, filmed at Rubinstein's Paris home in 1975. Rubinstein candidly answers questions about his life and career; the Grieg, Chopin and Saint-Saens Concertos; talks about Ravel, and what nonsense it is to call him or anyone else "the greatest pianist of the 20th century", as well as death, eternal life, and the visual arts. "My God is not an old man with a beard" says Rubinstein: food for thought! This interview is very fascinating, and I've watched it several times in the past two weeks. Each time I hear Mr. Rubinstein speak, I get a different perspective, and hear something new!
justwarren | Westport, CT | 01/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am not a classical music aficionado, but I do love classical music, particularly piano. This DVD is simply amazing. To think that Rubinstein was 88 years old when he recorded this. It's an incredible feat of musicianship as well as physical stamina. To my amateur ear, I was blown away at the beauty of this performance. This is not just a curiosity, this is a concert that is worthy of a great master like Rubinstein. The quality of the sound and the picture is also fantastic. I loved this DVD, if you like Rubinstein and classical music, I can't imagine you wouldn't feel that same."
Amazing Chopin and Saint Saens
Cynthia AD Shadish | Mariposa, CA USA | 11/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just a few comments on this amazing performance. 1. The technical quality is outstanding. The picture is crystal clear and there is no static....you could hear a pin drop during the silences. 2. There is a section in this DVD where Rubinstein is listening to and feeling the orchestra's music (when he is not playing). He is joyously engulfed in the sound. Seldom do we see this part of Rubinstein because his playing always looks so effortless and his body is so amazingly still except for the movement of his hands. This footage alone is worth the cost of the DVD. 3. The camera angles are wonderfully creative in a way that draws you into the drama. I don't think I've ever felt so present in a DVD symphony. I did not, however, feel this until after Grieg's concerto. In my opinion, this is when all the musicians go beyond the technical into a very emotional interpretation. 4. If nothing else you can rent this DVD from NetFlix; just don't miss it. It is a valuable piece of history for all music lovers."
J. Bandy | southwest US | 01/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one, very special DVD on virtually every level. It should go without saying that the performance of Rubinstein is superb, and considering he was 89 when this film was made makes it even more extraordinary. His performance, however, is even further enhanced by the great camera and sound work. The camera does a fine job of giving the viewer a pleasing and interesting mix of views of the orchestra, Rubinstein's body movements and facial expressions, and most importantly, his hands. In short, this is a must DVD for anyone who is a fan of Artur Rubinstein.
In addition to the great performance, the interview with Rubinstein is very interesting and revealing. In spite of his great talent, artistry, celebrity and fame, yet he seemed a quite humble and unassuming person.