I've discovered the perfect way to appreciate the 1930s Rubinstein recordings - on the Land Rover CD player. The road noise masks the background hiss, leaving only the sublime Mr Rubinstein.
Meanwhile the Pires recording arrived on Thursday. A beautifully produced recording which echoes through the house on the Cyrus. Is it fair to compare the two given the markedly different sound quality? The stronger bass sound on the modern recording produces an entirely different effect: less delicate, less fragile, particularly at the higher end of the range. What is remarkable for me in the Rubinstein recordings is the extraordinary sensitivity of the phrasing. This seems to work better with the rather thin sound of the early recording.
That's not to say Pires is any less sensitive in her playing. She is an extremely gifted pianist, perhaps a bit too polished for my taste. I can't imagine her hitting too many duff notes in more technically demanding pieces - something Rubinstein wasn't afraid to do. I say wasn't afraid to because at this level of playing mistakes arise not so much because of poor technique but because the performer is pushing the limits of his ability. Martha Argerich is equally fearless. Notwithstanding the brilliance of Pires and Rubinstein, my favourite recording of piano music is still Argerich's live recording of Rachmaninov's third piano concerto, recorded in Berlin with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra for Philips in 1982 (464 732-2).