We Live in a New Musical World

November 4, 2009

YouTube has been an outlet into new worlds for many of us, including me, my friends and colleagues, who never dreamed that we’d have access to so many performances that were once the province of the well-connected few.

Here I note that even the notations to the right side of these postings (if you click back to the YouTube sources) can be of major musical news: musicology now comes in previously unexpected guises. Actually, this once I’ll quote the valuable (anonymous) commentary to the right — thus illustrating the value of democratizing media:

In March of 1928, Fred Gaisberg the famous artistic director of the Gramophone Company (HMV) persuaded Rubinstein to make a few test recordings. None would be released without the pianist’s permission. Those that did not have Rubinstein’s approval would be destroyed. Rubinstein had serious misgivings about recording because he had heard piano recordings that were made using the acoustic process which he said made the piano sound like a banjo. (Perhaps Rubinstein was speaking from personal experience. Circa 1910, he had recorded two selections for the Polish label Farorit. This recording is extremely rare and has never been reissued. There is a tape). Gaisberg told him that the new electrical system captured the piano tone faithfully. Upon arriving at the studio, Rubinstein was disturbed to find that one of the pianos that he was to play, a Bluthner, was not a full size concert grand.. Gaisberg encouraged him to try it. Rubinstein writes, “Well, this Bluthner had the most beautiful singing tone I have ever found. I became quite enthusiastic and decided to play my beloved Barcarolle of Chopin. The piano inspired me. . I dont think I ever played better in my life. And then the miracle happened; they played it back to me and I must confess that I had tears in my eyes. It was the performance that I dreamed of and the sound reproduced faithfully the golden tone of the piano. Gaisberg had won.” Rubinstein went on to record several other compositions, but for some reason the Barcarolle from the March session was not released. Of the compositions that he recorded that day, only the Chopin Waltz Op 34 No.1 (recorded on a full size Steinway concert grand that also was in the studio), and the Brahms Capriccio B minor Op.76 No. 2, were released. The following month, Rubinstein returned to Small Queens Hall, Studio C London, to re-record the Chopin Barcarolle on the Bluthner that had so inspired him. It is this recording that I have placed here. (Years ago I was trying out some pianos one of which was a Bluthner. It also had a gorgeous tone.)

In his biography “Rubinstein, A Life,” Harvey Sachs writes that this recording of the Barcarolle is “amazing in its mixture of quiet intimacy, melodic splendor, mounting eroticism and dazzling explosions of joy. The 1962 recording, although beautiful, pales besides it.” Harris Goldsmith, musicologist, critic, pianist, author and disciple of Artur Schnabel, disagrees. Too many rubatos, too self indulgent, too many textual inaccuracies, just too, too.

(As a personal note, my father, who was a locally-respected — and here I specify that the respect was that of a small Southern community — Chopin player, would always defer to my mother’s request for “the Barcarolle” — by which she meant this one.)

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