As a university student in the early 2000s, I spent a fortune acquiring separate components of this set. This was the time when the first all-encompassing CD sets were starting to come out, and the entire recorded legacy of Arthur Rubinstein, a giant of the 20th century pianism and one of the most beloved classical musicians of all time was among the first of this sort to be released. It was a 200+ disc set, where each CD could be purchased separately (you could also buy the entire set in a nice wooden case, including a thick book, if you happened to have $2000 on the side).
There was a fellow named Hank Drake who apparently found time to listen to all 200+ CDs in the set and then wrote lengthy and informative reviews about each of them on the American Amazon. Following Mr. Drake's advice, I built my Rubinstein collection consisting mostly of definitive recordings of Chopin and Brahms, on which Rubinstein built his well-deserved reputation and global fame.
I can state with certainty that cca. two thirds of the readings in this set fall into the category of definitive recordings. Ballades, Scherzi and the Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3 are the best examples. Rubinstein recorded most of Chopin's works three or four times during his lifetime. For some reason, several recordings here are actually not the best ones in his recorded output. For example, the version of the Polonaises included in this set were recorded in stereo - however, it is widely agreed that an earlier mono version is much better. And then there are the Preludes and the Concerti, which are better to be avoided since superior versions can be found elsewhere.
After listening to the entire set several times, I can also state that the sound quality is slightly inferior to the 2000 set. I am pretty certain about it since I have listened to my old CDs many times over, and this was on a much worse Hi-Fi System.
Despite slight misgivings, this is still a superb set that I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone. It does not matter whether you are an experienced collector, a Rubinstein aficionado, a sometimes listener or a total ignoramus - I guarantee that you will completely fall in love with this set. Needless to say, the price is so low that, like myself, you may even want to buy if you already have a plenty of Rubinstein's recordings, but need them in a practical package in case you are often traveling.
This set replaces the old LP's I had in my possession for 40-50 years or so. The transfers are good. I still hold the view that Rubinstein's stereo recordings of the Nocturnes has not been surpassed. Although the Nocturne in E minor, Op. posth. 72 is included, I hoped that somebody might have looked further to see whether he had recorded the C-sharp minor and C minor Nocturnes (also 'posth') but to no avail! Sound quality seems to have improved over the LP versions. The E-minor concerto under Stanislaw Skrowaczewski’s baton is a match made in heaven! The Sonata No 2 In B flat minor Opus 35 comes in both of Rubinstein's recorded performances (1946 and 1961). Whilst the earlier one with rather limited recorded sound quality is interesting - if for the faster tempo used, the latter is absolutely masterful - a powerful performance with the "wind howling around the gravestones" in the final movement. However, I would just Dinu Lipatti's 1940's performance of the B minor Sonata Op. 58 is slightly ahead of Rubinstien's. However, that is only an opinion. I could continue as the whole set is a fantastic listening experience which seems likely to have largely been done in unedited 'one take per movement' performances. Most later pianists including Kissin and Pollini have tried but (again - my opinion) have not come close.
I bought the RCA vinyl box set years ago and most, if not all, of these recordings were included in it. For my taste, they are Chopin as he should be played; clearly articulated, subtle and restrained rubato, powerful and exhilarating climaxes, and moments of deep tenderness and tranquility. The recordings are adequate, less metallic than the vinyl sounded, and I've just bought a second set of this to give to a colleague who is retiring. This is a set every Chopin lover should hear. They are as near perfection as I ever expect to hear.
I bought this set because it is the CD replacement for the wonderful RCA multi-LP box I acquired many years ago. The transfers are excellent. I don't need to extol the virtues of Arthur Rubinstein as a Chopin interpreter - just listen, if possible, to his Barcarolle or Berceuse, then come back down to earth and buy this bargain set!
This set caused me some doubts as one reviewer has stated that the mastering of this set is exactly the same as the late 1990's mastering so if you have the previous copies, which I do, then it would be a waste of money to buy this set.
Regardless, and tempted by the 24 bit processing stated on the rear of the box, I decided to take a chance. I have compared every disc with the previous mastering, one by one and doing an A/B comparison, and there is absolutely no doubt that this set is superior. The tonal range is warmer and far more believable and the slight woodenness of piano timbre which was still apparent on the last mastering has now been removed. The somewhat dry acoustic remains which makes the recordings sound as if they were made in a small and well-upholstered room. This could well reflect Chopin's actual original playing circumstances in many cases of course so can be acceptable on that basis.
Much may depend on the replay equipment of course and in that regard I have three ranges of equipment at different levels of fanaticism. All reveal the improvement with the best equipment showing the most improvement.
As regards the performances, I have supplied full reviews elsewhere but can summarise these readings as follows: Rubinstein's view of these works can generally be described as coolly dispassionate and he can be very tough in this regard. This is all to the good as in this way we get to hear what Chopin wrote without the distracting effects of superimposed emotional interpretations. A great deal of the writing is surprisingly discordant and it is impossible to avoid being aware that Chopin was, if not unhappy, at least he could be described as suffering from disquiet on a significant number of occasions and this shows in his music.
Rubinstein makes this quite clear in his versions of the sonatas, the ballades, impromptus and scherzos for example. He is not the only one to take this view. Perahia can be uncompromising in these ways as can Ashkenazy, Pollini and Argerich for example. I choose these pianists simply because their views were strongly influential on discs as long as forty years ago and the softer, more emotional and salon approach to the music soon became unacceptable from then on. Perahia's version of the preludes came as quite a shock to me in its uncompromising emphasis of the discords when I first heard it in the 1970's and it changed my understanding of Chopin at that time. Other works such as the mazurkas and nocturnes are not so coloured.
I would suggest that this set by Rubinstein is valuable as a corrective to excessive emotionalism in this music and thus provides a good starting point from which other versions can be investigated. This is not the only way to play this music - no one pianist or musician can ever claim to have the 'only' answer to interpretation. Nevertheless this is a set of such importance that it should not be ignored.
At this price and in this new remastering, which I suspect is dated around 2010 when it was published in this boxed set, this represents amazing value. I personally find the disc of the preludes too old to be rewarding and the concertos are better played by other combinations of pianists, conductors and orchestras, but the rest are marvellously rewarding recordings from the stereo era.
There's not much I can say about this as the product speaks for itself. Sublime Chopin, Sublime Rubinstein. 10 cds of divine music played by, in my book, the greatest ever interpreter of Chopin's piano music. The very essence of the composer portrayed by the greatest of pianists. The very heart and soul of both the composer and the pianist on a wonderful cd compilation. Sincerely, Linda Morgan.
I remember getting the 11 disk LP version when I was at college and sending them back time and again in an attempt to get a set free from distracting scratches. Now here is a perfect transcription with no imperfections. Rubinstein has the measure of this composer, it seems to me, with an ideal balance between heartfelt romanticism and intellectual control. Sheer magic!
There is a long unbroken line of virtuoso pianists stretching back to the nineteenth century. Virtuoso pianists include (in no particular order): Liszt; Chopin; Schubert; Schumann; Grieg; Strauss; Rachmaninov; Saint-Saens; Prokofiev; Paderewski; Horowitz; Popper; Backhaus; Ravel; Faure; Hoffman; Zeisler; Gershwin; Grainger; Lhevinne; Novaes; Solomon; Kissin; Lupu; Hess; Brendel; Gould; Bolet; Uchida; Lang Lang; and Grovener – each virtuoso interpreting music in their own very personal way to bring us their own ‘magic’.
Shining out like a shaft of gold when all around was dark was ARTHUR RUBENSTEIN – a child prodigy who gave the world so much and left it in a better condition than when he found it.
Here was a musical genius bringing us wonderful compositions on a par with Chopin – played with stunning virtuosity. Who cannot resist his wonderful flowing ‘Barcarolle’ – a piece he composed in 1929 – and who cannot resist Rubenstein playing Chopin?
Well resist no more for here in one glorious TEN-CD anthology are the collected works of Chopin played by Arthur Rubenstein.
Sadly, some performances were recorded on primitive sound-capture equipment which had limited frequency response and limited dynamic range so there is surface noise and distortion on the loud passages to contend with; plus some of the compositions such as the ‘Prelude in A Major (Andantino)’ are incomplete and end abruptly because of the TIME limitations imposed by the recording medium of the day (the tape recorder and the microgroove LP record had yet to be invented when these recordings were made).
But – and it’s a BIG but – even bigger than that – I have a wonderful little surprise for you, because it is actually possible to hear Rubenstein (and Grieg; Strauss; Rachmaninov; Saint-Saens; Prokofiev; Paderewski; Horowitz; Popper; Backhaus; Ravel; Faure; Hoffman; Zeisler; Gershwin; Grainger; Lhevinne; and Novaes) in FULL-FREQUENCY HIGH-FIDELITY.
‘How is that possible?’ I hear you ask - and you are right to question the validity of such a bold statement – so although we have only just met, as your curiosity is aroused – and so that we may get to know each other a little better - I shall tell you.
In 1904 the German company Welte Mignon made an astonishing leap in technology and invented the world’s first ‘reproducing piano’ – a piano that shocked the world because THIS piano did not crudely ‘play the notes’ as instruments such as the ‘Pianola’ did.
Through mechanised DIGITAL decoding, THIS piano was capable of playing classical music with FULL expression - every accent; every nuance; every shade; every crescendo; and every diminuendo from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo – capturing the full dynamic range of the captured performance – including independent operation of the ‘damper’ and ‘soft’ pedals - all faithfully and accurately ‘recorded’ on paper ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music rolls’ encoded with digital information that operates an ‘expression system’ to facilitate playback of every tonal expression, which is so important to beautiful piano playing.
Reproducing pianos – which are now very rare - have astonishing control of articulation and dynamics – so much so that European composers from ‘the golden age’ who were keen to leave a timeless legacy of their talent and virtuosity - flocked to Austria and America to make ‘reproducing piano’ music roll recordings - and before you could say ‘Sergei Rachmaninov’ reproducing pianos began to grace the homes of high society – the best of these being the ‘Welte Mignon’; the ‘Ampico’; and the ‘Duo-Art’ (they occasionally come up on eBay should you wish to own one).
People hearing a ‘reproducing piano’ ‘live’ for the first time are usually stunned into jaw-dropping silence as the piano ‘comes to life’ in a really spooky way. Children gasp; women sob; and grown men cry at the wonderful virtuoso performances as they listen to the delicate detail and full tonal and dynamic ‘expression’ - just as the composers and virtuosos of the day ‘recorded’ it onto a ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music roll’ over a CENTURY ago.
Every virtuoso interprets music in a very personal way. By playing the specially encoded music rolls on a ‘reproducing piano’, what this means is that instead of hearing noisy archaic recordings of Rachmaninov; Grieg; Debussy; Paderewski; Horowitz; and Rubenstein, et al, recorded on primitive recording equipment with mediocre sound-capture and playback capability, what you hear is an ACOUSTICAL RECREATION of a virtuoso performance played the way that the composer wanted you to hear it; as it SHOULD be heard; on a REAL piano – each and every time you play the CD.
This means that you hear ‘live’ performances at an incredible level of fidelity from virtuosos such as Strauss; Stravinsky; Saint-Saens; Debussy and Rubenstein - so you get to hear the masters; rediscover forgotten masterworks; and revitalise neglected ones.
Gasp in awe - you really ARE listening to virtuosos from a bygone age playing the piano
Hearing is BELIEVING!
To quote Mahler “The reproducing piano reproduces the living soul of the artist and has not an equal”.
As we seem to have got to know each other a little better, I am going to share a little secret with you (shhh - come a little closer so that I can quietly whisper it to you).
The record company ‘DAL SEGNO’ have painstakingly compiled and recorded a wonderful CD catalogue of ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music rolls’ (available from Amazon – search for dal segno) that allow you to hear compositions from some of the finest composers and pianists that ever lived performing with FULL frequency response and FULL dynamic range on a concert grand piano. These include ‘live’ performances from Strauss; Grieg; Rachmaninov; Stravinsky; Saint-Saens; Bizet; Prokofiev; Debussy; Faure; Scriabin; Mahler; Bartok; Granados; Gershwin; Granger; and the man himself - Rubenstein – and this is only scratching the surface of Dal-Segno’s amazing catalogue.
Dal-segno have released two special ‘samplers’ from their remarkable catalogue to encourage our children to appreciate timeless compositions performed by virtuoso performers – ‘Music for babies’ and ‘Music for children’.
Both CDs are truly magical. Smile as PERCY GRANGER plays melodies from Act 2 of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’; enter a romantic wistful reverie filled with ‘stillness’ as CLAUDE DEBUSSY plays ‘The girl with the flaxen hair’; sing along with gusto as GEORGE GERSHWIN plays ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ to lift the spirits and gladden the heart; join STRAUSS on an epic boat journey that takes you and your friends right across Europe as he plays the wonderfully celebrated ‘mind picture’ ‘On the beautiful blue Danube’; and do your best interpretation of Pavlova as SAINT-SAENS plays ‘The Swan’ for you.
It doesn’t get any better!
Oh yes it does! Volume 8 of ‘The great pianists’ features Arthur Rubenstein performing Chopin; Rimsky Korsakov; Debussy; Brahms; De Falla; Prokofiev; and Abeniz; on a ‘reproducing piano’ – and Dal Segno’s ‘double album’ CD ‘Frederic Chopin – the original piano roll recordings’ features Rubenstein and others playing Chopin on a ‘reproducing piano’.
No noise – no distortion - no abrupt endings – just shear bliss as you listen to the masters play their works on one of the most remarkable inventions of the 20th century – the ‘reproducing piano’ (be warned – its addictive).
This is the device that bridges the 25 year wait for modern recording equipment to be invented (which sadly saw the demise of the reproducing piano – Dame Myra Hess being one of the last virtuoso's to make ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music roll’ recordings).
By the 1960’s recording equipment was capable of capturing and playing back every tonal expression AND every dynamic emphasis – and this fabulous CD compilation also contains those later recordings in all of their fabulous splendour.
The CD is in a class of its own – simply purchase it along with the two Dal Segno CD’s and own some of the finest music ever composed for piano played in the highest fidelity by one of the world’s greatest geniuses.
And if you wish to go the extra mile, treat yourself to ‘Kirov Classics’ on BluRay or DVD (available from Amazon). Here you will find the ballet ‘Chopiniana’ faithfully restored in full colour which contains the ‘A major prelude’ in full.
A revelation. Left very quickly with the strong impression that this is what Chopin should sound like. Can't stop listening to it: is there a term for this?The wife is becoming worried, and all that DIY, etc, is piling up (not an excuse, just a compulsion.) Fantastic music beautifully played by a genius. Have you got any more like this? Better say too that the sound quality is excellent and the interpretation is out of this world.