Sunday, February 7, 2010

Yesterday it was my great pleasure to see films of Artur Rubinstein playing the piano: one of a recital in Moscow, the other of the Chopin F minor Concerto played with the London Symphony, Andre Previn conducting. It was especially moving because I am not fond of that concerto; I find it too long and rambling despite moments of great beauty and vigor. The last movement is, however, a totally satisfying outburst of Polish peasant dance. The musicians all enjoyed it; I didn't want it to stop.

It was all the more moving in that Rubinstein was already at an advanced age and I suspect he might have had the feeling it would be his last performance of the work. But then he always played that way, savoring every nuance as if he were discovering it for the first time.

This quality directly affected a performance I played in Prague several years ago. Rubinstein's daughter was attending the festival of which the concert was a part. We had a pre-concert chat in which she confided that she didn't like the trio I was going to play. I agreed; it was not a favorite of mine, either. While in the wings ready to go on stage, I looked out and saw her face, which strongly resembles her father's, seated third row center and I knew he would never perform a piece bringing anything less than total commitment to its importance. I found things in the music that I had never known were there.

Afterwards she said: "I change my mind about that piece."