Which Regal Pianist Reigns Supreme?

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

For this week’s Showdown, we invite you to choose from among the “Kings of the Emperor.”

Of these regal pianists of the 20th century — Rudolf Serkin, Claudio Arrau, Artur Rubinstein — by just a couple votes you chose Rubinstein as the pianist you wanted to hear perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor?

We played the winner at noon.


Rudolf Serkin


Claudio Arrau


Artur Rubinstein

Comments [32]

Michael Meltzer

I have recordings of Gieseking playing Brahms and Mozart, and I've heard a little of his Debussy, but no Beethoven. He was a magnificent pianist, we'd be all the richer if WQXR came up with recordings. Keep up the pressure.

Nov. 10 2011 03:10 AM
Ferenc from Queens

I was the guy to talk about playing in the Queens Symphony when Arrau played the Emperor, and to repeat myself it was incredible. I play the violin not the piano, but I have listened to many versions of the Op. 73. In my limited opinion the greatest I ever listened to was Gieseking. The chances are nobody is on this comment page any more, but do I hear it for Walter?

Nov. 09 2011 08:14 PM
Neil Schnall

Rubinstein recorded the entire cycle of concerti at least 3 times during his career... with Leinsdorf (as heard here), earlier with Josef Krips (I think) conducting the Symphony of the Air; and late in his career with Barenboim conducting. There are probably other individual recordings or air checks around.

I agree with those who have expressed that this should not have been a vote or other kind of game. All these renowned artists' performances should be featured on this station.

Nov. 09 2011 05:42 PM
Michael Meltzer

Of course in his lifetime, Rubinstein had the largest repertoire of any pianist. I own the LP of his very fine "Emperor" with Wallenstein, and of Serkin's with Ormandy (probably my choice for the desert island, if it has electricity).
I watched a public TV master class of Arrau teaching the 4th Concerto, I know his 5th would have been provocative. I do hope WQXR will air it in the near future.

Nov. 09 2011 02:25 PM
Linda Douglas from Queens, New York

I knew Rubenstein was going to win however, why not put the entire video of Arrau's playing as a consolation prize to those of us who lost?

Nov. 09 2011 12:11 PM
RP from NYC

Unfair. Although Rubenstein was my favorite pianist when I was a child, and I heard him in person a number of times, I would not pick him for Beethoven. In that area I would certainly say that both Serkin and Arrau were fabulous. I'll be happy with either. There is no winner just the "other" superb pianist.
Thank you .

Nov. 09 2011 12:04 PM
Ken Nichols from NYC

Array, without question: let the composer's truly be heard !

Nov. 09 2011 12:03 PM
Chris DuBarton from Jersey, across the bay

I was lucky enough to have heard all three pianists live in New York, but only Arrau and Serkin in this Beethoven. Nonetheless, I enjoy Serkin the most of these three, he was a true classicist. The Arrau would be my second choice, but although I enjoy the last Rubenstein recording with Barenboim conducting, my real favorite, not included here, is Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic from the keyboard. His sense of humanity and of Beethoven, and the overall sweep, is unequaled.

Nov. 09 2011 11:59 AM
Jaime Zárate from Bogotá, Colombia

Rubinstein !!

Nov. 09 2011 11:57 AM
Richard Scher from Gainesville, Florida

Really any of them; it's almost impossible to make a choice based on anything but personal preference. But I vote for Serkin, because with him you get extra - on my CD you can hear him humming along. It's not distracting at all, it adds an interesting counterpoint, and it is evidence of how deeply he felt the music. Thanks for the poll, and letting listeners comment.

Nov. 09 2011 11:56 AM
Seth Segall from Westchester, NY

I heard Serkin play this live almost fifty years ago. What sublime delicacy during the pianissimo passages! I would love to relive that moment again!

Nov. 09 2011 11:52 AM
Keith Moore from Michigan


..simply because I like his rubato best. Personal choice. I've always liked Claudio's personal touch.

I agree with the comment about Leon Fleischer. He was (is now again) awesome.

Nov. 09 2011 11:51 AM
Pim from New York

Claudio Arrau, or course!

Nov. 09 2011 11:45 AM
Alan from Long Island

I too, was raised on the Rubenstein/Leinsdorf interpretation (still have the original vinyl!!) and have the Serkin reading. Will go with the Rubinstein, not only for his interpretation, but also because of the excellent BSO accompanyment.

Nov. 09 2011 11:44 AM
Arthur from Queenns, N.Y.

These three, are surely a charm. This time I'll choose Mr. Rubenstein.

Nov. 09 2011 11:43 AM
Linda Mallonee from Wichita KS

Each man adds his own personal touch. Each gives us a great gift of listening. I want to hear all 3, but my husband would vote for Arrau.

Nov. 09 2011 11:42 AM
William Leo Coakley from West Side, Manhattan

I would prefer Rubinstein in almost any other work by Beethoven but in the 'Emperor' Claudio Arrau had an unsurpassed elegance and power.

Nov. 09 2011 11:42 AM
Ming-Fung Fung from Forest Hills, N.Y.

Absolutely Arrau!

Nov. 09 2011 11:41 AM
Dr Shya from Yonkers, NY

It's all about the touch, silence, essence and flow. For me, this means Mr. Arrau. In truth, each of these pianists, along with many others, truly reign supreme.

Nov. 09 2011 11:22 AM

How can you not want to hear Artur Rubenstein play just about anything? And yes, I agree with his daughter that much of his recorded work is overlooked on the air, undoubtedly because his Chopin is so overwhelming.

But when it comes to the Emperor, to me the definitive recording is still Leon Fleischer's on his complete set with Szell and the Cleveland from the 60s. In all this time, it hasn't been equaled.

Nov. 09 2011 11:02 AM
Gary from Dallas, TX

Of our choices today, it would have to be Rubinstein. Let's have a future forum to include my personal favourite and friend, Van Cliburn.

Nov. 09 2011 11:00 AM
Luis Alvarez from New Jersey

Without a doubt.... Claudio Arrau. I love Rubinstein of course, but I have to admit Arrau is unsurpassable at this. Arrau gets my vote.

Nov. 09 2011 10:53 AM
Ferenc from Queens

Many years ago I had the honor at the age of 17 of playing in the violin section of the Queens Symphony under David Katz. In one memorable concert we played the Emperor with Claudia Arrau as soloist, needless to say it was magical! My vote is for Arrau!

Nov. 09 2011 10:43 AM
jules broslaw from nyc,ny

I saw Rubenstein at Carnegie Hall when I was too young to appreciate his masteryso I would like to hear him again.Thank you for all the great music you play.

Nov. 09 2011 10:38 AM
Eva Rubinstein from New York City

You can't blame me for voting for my own father...especially because WQXR tends to play only his Chopin recordings, to the point where I wonder whether some people think he never played anything else! He was known for his Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann and some of his contemporaries/friends such as Ravel, de Falla, Szymanowski...

Nov. 09 2011 10:25 AM
sharon Gray from Manhattan

arthur Rubenstein PLEASE

To me anything he plays has a little magic I can
picture his beautiful hands and fingers fingers just flying over the keyboard and I am sure
Beethoven would be pleased.

Nov. 09 2011 10:21 AM
Custos Libros from NYC

Rubinstein please. In addition to his opening flourish, I like the orchestra in his recording.

Many thanks for allowing us these great choices--I hope my noon conference call ends quickly so I can actually listen!

Nov. 09 2011 10:20 AM
Ekaterina Sabatino from New York City

Without a doubt - Artur Rubinstein

Nov. 09 2011 10:06 AM
Maryanne Alfano from Queens, NY

I truly appreciate the foregoing comments - it is wonderful to be a member of such a instenership. I will, however, choose Rubenstein for today. I have seen documentaries on him and have heard recordings growing up at my father's knee (he being a longtime QXR listener and started me on my love of classical music and your station). Rubenstein has come to be like a favorite and dear granfather that lives far away - you never feel you get enough of him. Thans!

Nov. 09 2011 09:20 AM
Tim Brown from Washington, DC

I played all three of your excerpts straight through, each time getting lost in the music. Impossible to pick a "winner." I'll vote for the Rubinstein/Leinsdorf 'cause my dad had that recording when I was a kid.

Nov. 09 2011 09:01 AM
Richard Levine

I agree with Michael Meltzer that all three were very special, as is the Concerto itself - I never tire of it.
As for the showdown, I grew up with the Rubinstein/Leinsdorf, and have heard Serkin, but never Arrau, so he gets my vote..

Nov. 09 2011 04:43 AM
Michael Meltzer

Since I've never heard the Arrau, he gets my vote.
Otherwise, a work like this and pianists like those shouldn't have to be the subject of a vote. They all belong in your daily playlist in some kind of rotation, because they were special. Very, very special.

Nov. 09 2011 04:25 AM

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