C1819. ARTUR RODZINSKI Cond. NYPO, w.ALEXANDER BRAILOWSKY: Piano Concerto #2 in c (Rachmaninoff), Live Performance, 21 Jan., 1945, Carnegie Hall; Piano Concerto #2 in c (Rachmaninoff), Live Performance, 24 Feb., 1946, Carnegie Hall. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-913. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This is a rather odd release, particularly in St. Laurent Studio’s Artur Rodzinski series, of which, amazingly, this is volume 53! It contains two performances of Rachmaninoff’s much loved Second Piano Concerto, with the same soloist, conductor, and orchestra, given only 13 months apart. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it immensely.
There was a time when Russian-born Alexander Brailowsky (1896–1976) was a quite famous pianist. He studied with both Leschetitzky and Busoni, and built his reputation particularly as a Chopin specialist, giving series of multiple recitals that featured Chopin’s complete output. Born to a Jewish family in Kiev, Brailowsky made his Paris debut in 1919. He settled in France, where he lived for most of his life. He recorded in the 1920s and 30s, and then had a recording renaissance with RCA and Columbia in the 1960s. His star has faded, however, and he doesn’t figure much in discussions today of important pianists from the past.
These are both terrific performances, displaying virtuosity and temperament. Rodzinski accompanies flexibly and convincingly on both occasions. I was surprised to find Brailowsky playing the same concerto in two successive New York Philharmonic subscription seasons, with the same conductor, and so I checked the New York Philharmonic archive. Indeed, in January, 1945, he played the Rachmaninoff on a program that also included Lukas Foss’ THE PRAIRIE, and in February, 1946 the Rachmaninoff was paired with the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony. One guesses that the combination of Brailowsky and Rachmaninoff was used to sell tickets for both concerts.
The 1946 performance has a somewhat lighter touch than the 1945 reading. Both feature great clarity and crispness of touch, but there is a more pearly legato and slightly greater dynamic variety in 1946. The later performance is also quicker, most notably in the slow movement. Despite the faster tempo, the later reading actually sounds a bit more relaxed. In both performances I would say the overall impression one gets is of brilliance and drive rather than warmth or poetry. But the concerto can take that and in some ways might even benefit from it. Brailowsky and Rodzinski bring real belief in the music, so there is nothing dutiful or routine about the performances. There was still a vestige of portamento in the New York Philharmonic strings in the 1940s, which is welcome in this music.
Clearly this is a specialist’s CD rather than something for the general collector. But it is a welcome reminder of a pianist who enjoyed a prominent career. It also offers a vivid demonstration that the performers took nothing for granted and could find different things to say about this warhorse from one season to the next.
This release is up to St. Laurent Studio’s normal high standard for reproducing historic broadcast material.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Critic Virgil Thomson once referred to Russian pianist Alexander Brailowsky (1896-1976) as 'an honest virtuoso'. Alexander Brailowsky, at the age of eight, became a student in the Conservatory of Kiev. Later, in 1911, he went to Vienna to study with Leschetizky, but the beginning of World War I caused him to reside in Switzerland. After the war, Brailowsky made his Paris debut in 1924, playing a complete cycle of the works of Chopin. This series included two sonatas, eleven polonaises, four scherzi, three impromptus, nineteen nocturnes, twenty-five preludes, twenty-seven etudes, and fifty-one mazurkas. This performance was repeated three times in Brussels, Zürich, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and other principal cities. A successful tour of all the principal cities of the world was then made.
On 31 October, 1938, he was soloist with the Pasdeloup Orchestra of Paris where he played the Chopin e minor Concerto and the Mendelssohn g minor Concerto, and he received a stupendous applause for his interpretation of the two concerti.
Appearances as soloist were made with major symphony orchestras and his interpretations of the works of Chopin brought him world-wide acclaim. Brailowsky was noted for his large repertory and he recorded for Victor the works of Chopin, Beethoven, Mendlessohn, Scarlatti, Schumann, and others. His recordings for Victor were numerous and used by students as examples of performances of the Chopin works. During a series of nineteen recitals in Buenos Aires, he never repeated a single work."
- Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition, 30 July, 2014
"Although Rodzinski conducted most of the Country's major orchestras, his tenure often ended in a huff. In 1947 he had quit the coveted job of boss of the New York Philharmonic because, he said, he felt hemmed in and hampered by the Philharmonic's businesslike manager.
Rodzinski was known as a great builder of orchestras. Time and again he took over run-down orchestras and in a few years, by cajolery, psychology and almost ruthless dedication, built them into the finest of artistic groups."
- LOS ANGELES TIMES, 28 Nov., 1958
“Artur Rodzinski, a conductor of incandescent talent and an equally brilliant gift for self-destruction, cut a scandalous path through American music a generation ago. A long with Toscanini and Stokowski, the bushyhaired Polish musician summed up in the public's eyes all that a real maestro was supposed to be: preening, arbitrary, dictatorial, unpredictable, driven by ambition. Rodzinski was all these, as his widow Halina freely documents in her fascinating memoirs. And more: Rodzinski during significant portions of his career was mentally ill, dependent on drugs and in thrall to all sorts of spiritual fads and fancies. That a man as disturbed as Rodzinski could operate, often dazzlingly well, during his relatively untroubled moments is perhaps a tribute to the stability of the domestic life he had built around himself. Mrs. Rodzinski, in the way wives of great men once were expected to act, put her life entirely at the disposal of her master.
Both Rodzinski and his wife came from a culture and a time (Poland before World War II) when such an arrangement was accepted as normal. 'I come before everything and everyone else', Rodzinski told Halina before their wedding, and he left her in no doubt of it by thereupon spending his wedding night without her, on the town. His wife, with less outward resentment than one would expect, depicts herself as hardly more than a servant. She sharpened his pencils, changed his shirts and brushed his hair at intermissions. Oh, yes, and it was her duty, too, to lay out the loaded revolver along with the maestro's tails before a concert. This bizarre story, which has long been talked about in disbelief In the orchestra world, can now be certified as true. Rodzinski carried the weapon - loaded - in a hip pocket whenever he faced an orchestra, even during rehearsals. Learning of this later, many a player who had displeased Rodzinski at one time or another must have experienced a slight frisson.”
- Donal Henahan, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 23 May, 1976