A. RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concerto No. 2; Suite in E-flat Major – Grigorios Zamparas, p./ Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orch./ Jon Ceander Mitchell – Centaur

by | Jul 7, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

A. RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 35; Suite in E-flat Major, Op. 119 – Grigorios Zamparas, piano/ Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orch./ Jon Ceander Mitchell – Centaur CRC 3320, 79:44 (6/10/14)  [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), while remaining the quintessence of the Nineteenth-Century Russian piano virtuoso, held to a conservative notion of composition, modeling his piano concertos after the German models, combined with much of Chopin’s fioritura. The 1851 Piano Concerto No. 2 –which exists in three separate editions, among which pianist Zamparas and conductor Mitchell effect a debatable compromise opens with an elongated double exposition from the orchestra, moving to a secondary theme in G Minor.  Pianist Zamparas makes his entry by avoiding the announced tunes, rather playing a series of presto runs and flourishes, moving without much emotional impact in waltz tempo to A Major. Waltzing in full dynamic throttle will end the movement. This moment of pretty lyricism provides the heart of the expansive – over twenty minutes – Allegro vivace assai movement, with its nocturnal invocations. Then come the Chopin riffs and variants, much sounding like the former’s E Minor Concerto. This romantic blend of keyboard and orchestra delivers precisely the effect Tchaikovsky railed against in his aesthetic for own B-flat Minor Concerto. If there resides a surprise in this canvas, it comes in the form of the fugato of the cadenza, which follows an idiosyncratic use of unisons and thirds. 

The darkly hued Adagio non troppo in B-flat Minor allows the piano solo a great deal of expressive latitude, with Rubinstein’s having indicated Tempo adlib quasi praeludium ma con molto expressione. Rhapsodic in feeling, the melodic line features a pronounced tympani rolling with the keyboard. The music moves persuasively, marcato, in block chords to B-flat Major, the trumpet’s doubling the melodic line effectively. The remained of the movements plays like an improvisation in the style of Schumann. For the last movement, from among various options, our principals choose Moderato, a 6/8 divertissement in light Chopin or Mendelssohn spirits. The various roulades and displays of digital bravura in rondo-sonata form convey the same “impact” as clever ballet music and much of Saint-Saens.

Rubinstein dedicated the five-movement 1894 Suite in E-flat Major to the Imperial Russian Music Society, supposedly testifying to his musical orthodoxy. The opening Prelude contrasts two ideas set in 2/4 and ¾. The ensuing Elegie – perhaps homage to Tchaikovsky, who died in 1893 and whose String Serenade contains a similar movement – requires almost triple the playing time, an extended adagio in C Minor. A funereal dirge of some power, it carries a degree of pomp and ceremony in its central section that has balletic or operatic ambitions. The most musical audacity appears in the Capriccio in B-flat Major, which modulates rather freely, Presto, in post-Romantic series of colors we might attribute to Reger or young Busoni. Good microphone placement (rec. 19-21 October 2012) captures the winds and brass in perky form. A C Minor Scherzo follows, rather pesant, which might allude to heavy-footed Bruckner of the Symphony No. 8. With two trio sections, the Schumann connection reveals itself. Rubinstein labels his grand last movement Finale, and it permits conductor Mitchell a full panoply of color effects, from the warmly sparkling to the Slavic notion of ominous, much like Borodin. The central section offers a quartet of cellos in warm, doxological harmony. Rubinstein proceeds to a development section and a lusty coda in Russian fireworks.

—Gary Lemco

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