One evening in 1967, a “young” man, aged 84, walked onto the stage of Royal Albert Hall to perform with the London Philharmonic Orchestra led by the Hungarian conductor Antal Doráti. As he liked to say, “I’ve never met a man as happy as me!” That evening, listening to Rubenstein’s radiant Beethoven concerto, there had never been a happier audience either!
If one had to choose a single word to define the art of Rubinstein, the word would be “song.” No matter the challenge, he performs with baffling ease, letting the music sing out of his magical fingers. Only his blindness, which followed 10 years after this performance, forced the retirement of this artist who debuted at 14 years old with the Berliner Philharmoniker and rose quickly to international stardom.
Although he became a U.S. citizen after World War II, his homeland of Poland remained close to his heart. Few pianists played the music of Chopin as naturally as he did, an ability testified to in his 1967 encore performance of the famous Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53, “Héroïque.” He also fulfills Chopin’s express wish that it be played “without booming thunder.”
This program was put together with archival footage from the BBC (Arthur Rubinstein plays Beethoven, filmed by Antony Craxton at London’s Royal Festival Hall on December 7, 1967 and Omnibus: Rubinstein speaks, by Anthony Wilkinson, 1968), from the Canadian National Archives The Piano Revealed in Film, from the Michel Hirvy collection).
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado