Despite the considerable increase in international air travel in the 1950s, the appearance at London’s Royal Festival Hall in June 1963 of two world-famous artists whose careers had either been largely made in, or concentrated upon, the United States for many years was an occasion very much out of the ordinary, for although they had both been (and continued to be) prolific
recording artists, their recordings distributed across the world, their individual contractual exclusivity meant they were not to make records together for several more years, although Artur Rubinstein was no stranger to the Philadelphia Orchestra (his American debut in 1906 was
with that self-same Orchestra) or its long-serving music director Eugene Ormandy.
So the chance of hearing these artists in Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, in a programme that also included Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony and Sibelius’s Second Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra, was one that ensured the Hall would be full to capacity. The audience, as we can hear, was not to be disappointed.
Rubinstein was a more familiar visitor to London in those days; he had a relatively small home in Paris (given to him by the French Government at the end of World War II), just off the Avenue Maréchal Foch, and was a welcome frequent guest at London’s Savoy Hotel, where he was always found a suite (at a greatly reduced rate) overlooking the Thames: from his window, he could see
the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank on the other side of the river.
Ormandy, however, would choose the Hyde Park Hotel, famous for its marble-clad interior, halfway
between the Royal Albert Hall and what was once the Queen’s Hall – a favourite hotel of musicians, including Heifetz and Piatigorsky: Ormandy would stay there during his last London visit, in 1977. But the London of June 1963 to which Rubinstein and Ormandy travelled was fast becoming a centre of world attention: it was the period of the Beatles’ first successes, of the unfolding of the Profumo affair and the arrest of Stephen Ward, of Carnaby Street, and of much political excitement.
There was undoubtedly a certain excitement ‘in the air’, so to speak, which was equally heightened within the Royal Festival Hall that evening by the virtuosity – of different kinds – that soloist and conductor brought to their respective tasks.
From the booklet note by Robert Matthew-Walker