Thursday, January 31, 2008

Remembering Rubinstein

An evening with this title was given on January 22. It was a curate's egg affair. Good were the filmed tributes from Zubin Menta the conductor and Daniel Barenboim the everything in music. Good were the film clips of the the great pianist Artur Rubinstein although vile was the sound. Bad was the discussion with Ronald Harwood interviewing the pianist Janina Fialowski. the leader and violist of the Guarneri String Quartet, and the producer of Rubinstein's records. Once again the sound was poor even when Annabelle Weidenfeld tweaked the mikes, She was the instigator of the evening nominally arranged by the Artur Rubinstein International Society. (I'm sure that she was responsible for the five foot high cylindrical hammocks awash witn jonquil and other spring flowers, stunningly beautiful).

Good was the playing after the interval of Mozart's late D major piano sonata k.576 by Alexander Gravylyuk, winner of the 2005 Artur Rubinstein Piano Competition, clear, fresh. But the disappoinment of the evening was the final item, Schumann's glorious Piano Quintet. Fialowska, Rubinstein's protege was adequate but the Guarneri Quartet co-heroes of so many magnificent recordings with Rubinstein, were tame and lacklustre. They formed in 1974 and were, alas, past their sell-by date.

During the performance there was plenty of time to remember Rubinstein. What a career and how long he continued to give pleasure! He was born almost exactly 125 years ago in Poland. The great violinist Joachim heard the boy and took charge of his education and conducted his debut in Potsdam, sending him to Max Bruch for theory and Padrewski for piano. As we saw in the excellent slides throughout the evening even as a tousle-headed kid, Artur looked recognisably similar. The slides included portraits by many artists, including Picasso and Cocteau. His career leapt upwards but in 1952 his new, adorable wife Nela persuaded Artur to take time off to regroup, improving his technique and disciplining himself. He had too easy a time and took life itself too easily. Now a vastly better pianist, he went from triumph to triumph. In Mozart, Beethoven. Schubert , Schumann and Brahms he played as well as his peers, in Chopin, Spanish and Latin-American music he reigned supreme; and he was a wonderful chamber music player, especially with The Guarneri, and with his piano trio with Heifetz and Feuermann, later Piatigorsky, despite constant rows with Heifetz because of his yobbish manners and, worse, the way he hogged the microphone.His repertory was large up to and including his friend and compatriot Symanowski, his stamina enabling him to programme concertos two at a time (Brahms) and even three at a time (Beethoven). He also had a penchant for lighter music such as the Saint-Saens G minor which he had played for over seventy years with unbelievable charm.

He also possessed remarkable recall of events in his life. The first volume of his autobiography My Young Years is a great read, entertaining and enlightening. Alas, volume two, written when his sight had failed him as he approached his ninetieth birtnday, is repetitive and dull, a catalogue of conquests at the piano and in the bedroom.

He was a great pianist, a great musician and a great entertainer so that remembering Rubinstein was also a great pleasure - for anybody old enough to do so; or anybody who listens to his vast number of recordings. Pity about the curate's egg.