BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. BRAHMS:
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15.Capriccio in B flat minor,
Op. 76 No.
in B flat, Op. 117 No. 2. SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A flat, D. 899 No.
4. CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31.
STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20 (rehearsal and performance)
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18 No. 4. String Quartet
No. 7 in F, Op. 59 No. 1 "Rasumovsky." String Quartet No. 14
in C sharp minor, Op. 131.
The Rubinstein DVD is a treasure. These glorious performances of Beethoven and Brahms concertos were recorded in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw August 27-31, 1973 during recording sessions without an audience. Born in 1887, Rubinstein was 86 at the time of these recordings, yet his technique was as crystalline and secure as ever—even in the demonic demands of the Brahms concerto. Haitink is the perfect accompanist, and the great Dutch orchestra is at its best. Max Wilcox, Rubinstein's favorite producer, was borrowed from RCA for these sessions and under these circumstances obtained a perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. Video is excellent, focused for the most part on Rubinstein, which is as it should be. The solo pieces are splendid, but of more importance is the 29-minute interview by Robert MacNeil with Rubinstein recorded in the pianist's Paris apartment (in the midst of famous paints and artworks). Rubinstein is as alert as he could be, totally unpretentious, often quite humorous and speaks at length about what it means to be an artist. His love of life is ever apparent, and he speaks candidly about his failed attempt at suicide when he was much younger. He mentions he had not played the Grieg concerto but when he had the opportunity to play it with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, he learned it in three days. The performances were so successful they recorded it for RCA. It is a fascinating look into the life of one of the truly great pianists of the past century. An essential DVD for those who love the piano!
Karl Böhm (1894-1981) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949) were close friends and the composer's music played an important part in the conductor's career. Strauss dedicated two of his operas to him, and Böhm recorded and performed Strauss's music extensively throughout his career: his 1981 video of Elektra was made when Böhm was deathly ill (see REVIEW). Now we have the opportunity to watch Böhm rehearsing the Vienna Philharmonic in Don Juan. The 47-minute rehearsal was recorded in the Musikverein September 17-18, 1970, presumably the performance of Don Juan at the concert that followed. It is fascinating to watch Böhm in detailed rehearsal of music the VPO had already played dozens of times under many conductors including Böhm, and the resulting performance is grand indeed. A "bonus" is a highly entertaining 8-minute presentation by Marcel Prawy in German with subtitles that include English. No mention is made of who Prawy is; an internet search shows that he was an Austrian "dramaturg, opera connoisseur and opera critic." Apparently he played an important part in Vienna's musical scene for many years, was a guest professor at many universities and gave many television and radio broadcasts. His style is infectious and charming, and I imagine everyone will enjoy his discussion of Strauss' music. It's unfortunate more music could not have been included on this DVD.
Chamber music connoisseurs will welcome the issue of three Beethoven quartets, one each from the composer's early, middle, and late periods, played by the famous Juilliard String Quartet. The recording was made in 1975 without an audience in the beautiful library of the former Augustinian Monastery at Polling in Upper Bavaria. Masterful performances as one would expect, with resonant but clear sound. Video is satisfactory but concentrates too much on individual players. Still, this is an important video document displaying one of the world's finest quartets at its peak of performance.
R.E.B. (June 2008)