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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.15
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
Recorded at Orchestra Hall, April 17th 1954
RCA RED SEAL LIVING STEREO SUPER AUDIO CD 82876 66378 2 [46.20]
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This famous recording will be very familiar. It has been serially re-released and owners of RCA 09026 61263-2 (about a decade old now) and RD85668 (somewhat older still) will pause only to note that it now comes under the aegis of SACD, though Iíve as yet only been able to listen on an ordinary set-up.

The old deficiencies of the original studio recording still remain. In the tradition of pianistic and violinistic lions Rubinstein was heroically over recorded. In his later, very frail recording in Israel with Mehta the over recording was such as to decimate orchestral themes under a welter of (fallible Ė he was then eighty-nine) piano passagework. Here things are very much better but the imbalance should be noted even though it was quite deliberate. Reinerís accompaniment has stood the wither of historical scrutiny. His delineation of separate choirs is magisterial, his breadth and implacable rhythm never harden or congeal. In matters of rhythm indeed he is a master. Rubinsteinís pianism is noble and dignified, powerfully sensitive and without exaggeration. Lyricism flows but is held in proper balance and the warmth of the slow movement never cloys. Here one feels a certain refinement of spirit and sensibility even though the close up RCA sound makes a true pianissimo difficult. And itís this, in the end, that marginally relegates this recording, despite the beauty of tone and the capricious and wittily pointed finale. And despite a finale in which Rubinstein never uses too much pedal Ė he makes his points with magical refinement.

As with an earlier release (RD85668) the Concerto comes without any coupling. RCA 09026 61263-2 included some solo Brahms, pieces from Opp. 76, 79 and 118 but this SACD has reverted to the earlier model, which I find a pity. Still, the performance is profoundly impressive, and constitutes Rubinsteinís greatest recording of this Concerto.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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