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A nostalgic, indulgent look at the pianist Arthur Rubinstein

The new DVD “Rubinstein Remembered,” an hourlong portrait of pianist Arthur Rubinstein, was originally broadcast in 1987 as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series. Rubinstein had died only a few years before, everyone was still emotional, and the documentary emphasizes his soulfulness and love for life.

It glosses over negative aspects of his personality – his philandering, for instance, and his big ego. And because it features his family, there is no mention of Annabelle Whitestone, the woman who figured in his life in his last years and helped with his second memoir, “My Many Years.” In the otherwise detailed account of how Rubinstein courted his wife, Nela, it never mentions that when he got cold feet, she went ahead and married another pianist, Mieczyslaw Munz.

The charm of the film is such that the omissions seem forgivable. Rubinstein’s love for life and warm approach to music were the reasons the world loved him. You see that from the first scene, in which Rubinstein, playing Chopin as an encore, cheerily flubs a few notes, and nobody cares.

The movie’s engaging host is the pianist’s son, John. John Rubinstein, a respected actor with a fine comedic gift who appears on shows like “Desperate Housewives” (he played Principal Hobson), has just the right humor, just the right calm. It is tremendously moving as, to the mournful tones of Schumann’s “Carnaval,” he tells of his father’s youthful suicide attempt. He explains how that failed attempt left Rubinstein with his love for life – it made him realize, as he tells it, that “there’s always music, love, flowers, books.”

That revelation makes you feel you know Rubinstein better. So do the rare photos that chronicle Rubinstein’s rise and scenes from childhood. Buffalonians will empathize with the falling snow, gray landscape and crunching boots as his wife and children trace his footsteps in Poland. It’s very touching to hear of the apartment where Nela grew up, in the Warsaw Opera House, where her father conducted. She would go downstairs to go to the opera. Imagine that. This is an engaging portrait not only of Rubinstein but of an era we won’t see again. It’s a lively documentary worth revisiting.

“Rubinstein Remembered,” a film by Peter Rosen is available now on DVD through RCA Red Seal.


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