American Elephants


Chopin Barcarolle Op 60. Artur Rubenstein, 1928 by The Elephant's Child
October 28, 2011, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Music

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 don’t 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.


2 Comments so far
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Magnificent. I love Chopin.

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Comment by bydesign001

Let me correct that so as not to confuse, Chopin Rubinstein. What a magnificent sound.

Thank you for this find.

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Comment by bydesign001




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