Classical Music Guide Forums - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - Written by Donald Isler

David Dubal Program on Arthur Rubinstein

David Dubal Program on Arthur Rubinstein – IKIF

with guests Eva Rubinstein - photographer (daughter of the pianist) and
Jon Samuel – recording producer and historian

This program, which began by David Dubal reading part of a letter I had written him about an amusing comment I heard Rubinstein make on his way into Carnegie Hall, just before his last recital there in 1976, was very successful in bringing alive the spirit of the great pianist for those of us who remember him, and hopefully also, for those who were not yet attending concerts (or were not yet born!) then.

A big part of the discussion was about the remarkable 10 recitals Mr. Rubinstein gave in New York in 1961, when he was 74 years old, in which he never repeated a single work. That was an impressive achievement! And it was remarkably generous of him to donate all the proceeds from those concerts to various charities. Now, several hours of parts of those recitals are being released on CD for the first time. Jon Samuel, of SONY, discussed Rubinstein’s place in pianistic history, and the story of how a fresh look at this material led to a decision to produce these releases, a little more than 50 years later.

From Eva Rubinstein the audience heard many enlightening comments about her father. A very complex and also secretive man, he encouraged her in her artistic pursuits and he also increased her general cultural knowledge, among other things, because whenever the family travelled, they always visited art museums. She spoke of famous people her father knew (ie. Thomas Mann, Picasso, to name a few) and said that his two best friends were the violinist Paul Kochanski, and the composer, Karol Szymanowski, both of whom died young. Her father spoke about eight languages and, interestingly, did not let his practicing “interfere” with his life. He got it done, and out of the way, and then went on to whatever else he had planned for the day. No 10 hours a day of practicing, or exceptional bouts of stage fright for him!

David Dubal led the discussion in many directions, spoke of the famous “Rubinstein vs. Horowitz rivalry,” and told stories he heard from Horowitz. According to Eva Rubinstein, her father felt that Horowitz was the better pianist but that he himself was the better musician. Horowitz, who could be mischievous and provocative, once said to Mr. Dubal “David! Can you get me a copy of the Moscheles biography? Rubinstein STOLE it when he was here!” When asked if that was true, Mrs. Horowitz replied “Of course not!”

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon was how much Arthur Rubinstein, who was born 125 years ago, and has been dead for almost 30 years, “stole his own show,” through recordings of his playing which we heard, as well as excerpts from a lengthy interview with Martin Bookspan. His conversation, witty and knowledgeable, and familiar to many of us, drew one in, as he discussed music, composers in or out of fashion (like Hummel, then out of fashion), and what people may have thought about him.

One recalls that, in his autobiography he remembered having mixed feelings as a young man, about making recordings, including being concerned how people might be dressed when listening to them (!). In this interview, made many years later, he wondered what “the man in Australia who is shaving” might think of his playing. Which reminded me that so very many people, in so many countries and over several generations were influenced by his playing. Including an Australian teenager, Bruce (then Leonard) Hungerford, who said that a recital of Rubinstein was one of two programs (the other was a Schnabel recital) that pushed him to decide on a career as a concert pianist.

The portions we heard of the 1961 New York recitals, including music of de Falla, and excerpts from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and the first movement of the Brahms F Minor Sonata, had such unbelievable life and verve (especially for a 74 year old) that they practically jumped out of the speakers at you! (And I can’t help but remember seeing him literally run up the stairs onto the stage of Carnegie Hall as an 82 year old. Yes, one came up stairs to get onto the stage in those days, before the hall was rebuilt.)

At the end we saw a video of the pianist playing the last movement of the Grieg Concerto, conducted by Andre Previn, and made a year or so before he retired. Although he was 88 years old and had serious vision problems by then, he played it beautifully, at quite a decent tempo, and the audience at Mannes College applauded and cheered him at the conclusion.

Since we cannot go to hear him play concerts anymore it was wonderful to, so to speak, bring him and his playing back to life for an afternoon.

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