Classical Reissue Reviews

ANTON RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos No. 2 in F Major and No. 4 in D Minor – Alexander Paley, p./ State Sym. Orch. of Russia /Igor Golovchin – Delos

Two of the composer's most flamboyant piano concertos, with excellent piano sonics.

Published on March 23, 2013

ANTON RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos No. 2 in F Major and No. 4 in D Minor – Alexander Paley, p./ State Sym. Orch. of Russia /Igor Golovchin – Delos

ANTON RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos No. 2 in F Major, Op. 35 and No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 70 – Alexander Paley, p./ State Symphony Orch. of Russia /Igor Golovchin – Delos DRD 2013, 76:50 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) dazzled audiences as one of the major virtuoso pianists of the Romantic era, compared only to Liszt. He was a sought after conductor and a prolific composer while little of his music is heard in concert today. There is an extraordinarily long list of compact discs containing his compositions, including this new Delos release.

Recorded in Russia in 1993 (!), it contains two of Rubinstein’s most flamboyant piano concertos, Nos. 2 and 4. If you want an introduction to Rubinstein, this is a good starting place.

Most of Rubinstein’s music has been damned as commonplace. The pianist Paderewski commented that he did not have the patience for a composer. Haste is evident in a lot of his compositions. It has been said that he developed his musical ideas in a trivial manner and that he was considered a note-spinner.

This may be true in some respects, but these two concertos, particularly No. 4, are fun and exciting to hear, and more than one time. Granted, Rubinstein did not have the gift of memorable melody, but he did have a certain gift for impressive orchestration. He also had a gift for flashy piano pyrotechnics which he laid on in abundance.  These concertos are not profound works as Beethoven and Brahms or Grieg and Schumann wrote, but then they are not one-dimensional either.

Rubinstein wrote 19 operas, but only The Demon (1871 and 1875) seems to hold any current interest. He wrote numerous vocal, song, chamber, piano works and one ballet. His orchestral creations include five piano concertos, six symphonies, two cello concertos, one violin concerto, and various overtures, plus miscellaneous symphonic pieces.

After the failure of two of his earliest operas based on nationalist themes, Rubinstein flashed back in writing stating there was no way to write nationalist operas. Rubinstein condemned other Russian composers as being guilty of “ignorant dilettantism” and “mischievous amateurishness.” These were Balakirev’s group of  nationalist composers (“The Five” – Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and  Rimsky-Korsakov, plus Balakirev) who were interested in peasant folk music and did not have a formal musical education.

Rubinstein made a lasting contribution by founding the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1862. The quality of instrumental performance in Russia was greatly improved. One of his pupils was none other than Tchaikovsky who, of course, produced music head and shoulders above the efforts of poor Rubinstein.

Also making a meaningful contribution to Russian music was his brother Nicolay Rubinstein, another piano virtuoso, conductor, teacher and composer. He founded the Moscow Conservatory in 1864.

This recording has excellent sound. What struck me was the absolute true timbre of the piano. I listened to the disc on two different state-of-the-art sound systems and the piano sound was as realistic as if it were in front of me. [So Russian engineers have learned a lot since Soviet days…Ed.]

Pianist Paley and conductor Golovchin with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia have the measure of this music turning out bravura performances that must be second-to-none.

—Zan Furtwangler

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