Recording of February 1968: Chopin; Nocturnes

Chopin; Nocturnes
Arthur Rubinstein, piano
RCA Victor LSC-7050 (2 LPs) (reissued on CD as RCA Victor Red Seal 0902 663049-2). Max Wilcox, prod.; Tom MacCluskey, Sergio Marcotulli, engs. Recorded August 30–September 2, 1965, 2 February 21, 1967.

If these Nocturnes are never played better than this, we couldn't care less. These are exquisite performances!

The recording, via RCA Victor's Dynagroove process is a far cry from the earlier excesses that gave Dynagroove its horrid reputation among perfectionists. One is simply not aware of the recording at all, as long as it is played at the right volume, which is about what you would hear from a good first-balcony concert-hall seat. (Or what you might hear from the patio on a warm summer night when someone is playing in the conservatory.) At higher levels, the sound becomes twangy and slightly boomy.

We haven't heard the tape, but we doubt that it could be as good as the disc. RCA Victor isn't EX+ing their tapes yet.—J. Gordon Holt

volvic's picture

Have this on CD and vinyl, the vinyl is atrocious, RCA's pressing always were. But Rubinstein's playing was always fantastic when it came to Chopin. I have many other performers but when I listen to his renditions I always know it is the right one.

Ortofan's picture

... Chopin and/or Rubinstein would be the 1964 all-Chopin recital recorded live in Moscow's Great Hall by Melodiya:

A video of the concert:

dalethorn's picture

The download I got (Sony Classics) sounds terrific. I can't remember the last time I got a sonic dud by Sony Classics.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Agree with you ..... Sounds terrific ......... Reference quality ...........

dalethorn's picture

The Holt review, based on the 1960's masters, noted that "At higher levels, the sound becomes twangy and slightly boomy."

I don't hear any of that in the Sony Classics edition. There were also a few other negative reviews on the Web based on older editions.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Agree .... I don't hear any of those negatives either .......... Sony must have re-mastered the original recording and did a great job ..............

Robin Landseadel's picture

Sorry, this isn't even Rubinstein's best, much less the best representation of this music. For starters, Claudio Arrau's performances for what used to be Philips demonstrates greater insight and superior sound. There are others. By the time Arthur Rubinstein recorded this set, he was on autopilot.

dalethorn's picture

Some valid points there. I should have said that based on reviews of the earlier editions of this recording, Sony did do well in cleaning it up. BTW, check out the rapid and accurate fingering beginning at 3:40 in Op. 27 #2 - the man could definitely play.

volvic's picture

I have the Arrau version on Philips, it is very good , Claudio Arrau was something special. But I wouldn’t dismiss the ‘68 recording, as I found it more pensive and reflective than his mono versions which I also own and where he charges through on his earlier ones he slows down and offers a nice insight and different look. I do like the Ashkenazy and Vasary recordings but something about Rubinstein when playing Chopin that shows an underlying command and elegance that other recordings can’t match.

NeilS's picture

Rubinstein recorded 3 complete sets of the Chopin Nocturnes over 30 years. They reflect both changes in his interpretations and in the prevailing recording technology, from mono acetates (1936-37) to magnetic tape/LPs (1949-1950) to stereo (1965-67). His slowing of tempo throughout the decades works to reveal detail and emotion - the 1965-67 recordings are achingly sensitive and beautiful.

I agree that Claudio Arrau's 1978 set (which also includes Chopin's Impromptus) is indeed worthy competition. I think Arrau's technique and interpretation are not better or worse than Rubinstein's, just different.

I'd say it is a matter of personal taste, not technique or artistry to choose between the two.

But why choose? Listen to them both. You can't go wrong with either.

Robin Landseadel's picture

"But why choose?"

Worked on a project back in the late 1980's, a piano compilation for Celestial Harmonies. Had to choose between various versions, settled on Ashkenazy as we had access to all of the Decca/Telefunken catalog. I'm not ruling out the possibility that the most recent remastering of Rubinstein's Nocturnes could draw more of that "breath of life" from those sessions, but having to choose, I did. Maybe it's the sound of all the transfers I've heard so far, but Rubinstein's set always sounded "gray" to these ears.

volvic's picture

Why choose indeed , they are all magnificent.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

What a fabulous and insight-rich discussion. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences on what has happened to this recording post-Gordon's review.

mrkaic's picture

Ivan Moravec recorded some superb Chopin nocturnes. Check them out.

dalethorn's picture

I have Chopin Mazurkas, Polonaises, and Waltzes by Moravec, but oddly no nocturnes, I will have to look around. I first heard Moravec on a demo disc in the 1970's playing Debussy.

dalethorn's picture

I've looked through more than 50 articles now on Moravec, skimming through them trying to find which pianos he was playing during recitals and recordings. There was mention in a few articles about his contention with George Szell and a choice of piano, but nothing further about the piano. There were also several mentions of his physical problems between ages 18 and 24, and how those contributed to his general style. My take on that, from listening and reading both, is that he preferred playing with attention to best detail and tone, and mostly avoided hard pounding on the keys for sonic effect. But I would like to know which pianos he recorded with.

Ortofan's picture

... he also performed on Baldwin and Bosendorfer pianos. However, his instrument of choice was supposedly a Petrof. The Chopin Nocturne recordings, cited above, were made using either a Steinway or a Bosendorfer.