SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, Op. 103 “Egyptian” – Muza Rubackyte, piano/ Lithuanian Nat. Philharmonic Orch./ Hans-Martin Schneidt (Op. 22)/ Alain Paris – Doron DRC 3065, 51:15 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Muza Rubacktye (b. 1959) dominates the Lithuanian keyboard scene, with her having studied in Moscow with Yakov Flier and Bella Davidovich and subsequently winning the All-Union Competition in St. Petersburg and later, the Grand Prix of the International Liszt-Bartok Competition in 1981 Budapest. Rubacktye has made a sensation in the music of Liszt, which she has extensively recorded. These “live” performances of two concertos by Saint-Saens derive from Vilnius’ National Philharmonic Hall from 1 December 2001 (Op. 22) and 16 March 2013 (Op. 103), respectively. Splendid sound graces both of these explosive performances.
Rubackyte possesses a powerful, fluid, and brilliantly explosive technique, attested to by the Andante sostenuto first movement of the popular 1868 G Minor Concerto. Its evolution from an imitation Bach fantasia into an elastic, romantic aria for piano and orchestra allows this pianist a grand opportunity for poetic rhetoric and bravura urgency. The middle Allegro scherzando takes its cue from the Chopin Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, encouraging Rubackyte’s scampering across the keyboard to evoke from the orchestra a kind of Gallic pastoral song. Those familiar with both the popular Artur Rubinstein and Bella Davidovitch inscriptions of this virile, playful music will find countless points of similarity in touch, phrasing, and debonair style of approach. We relish some nice work between Rubacktyte and the orchestra’s tympani. The last movement Presto exploits those Mendelssohn impulses in the middle even further, tearing loose with a bravura tarantella in bold colors. Rubacktye and conductor Schneidt engage in some antiphonal brio, eventually returning to the churning tarantella for an even more impassioned ritornello. Clara Schumann used to refer to Saint-Saens as a “circus trickster,” and this virtuoso vehicle certainly contains elements of the “kitchen-sink” variety of effects. But for pure dazzle, this performance packs its own gravitas.
The 1896 “Egyptian” Concerto embraces the composer’s penchant for North Africa, particularly harmonies Moroccan and Algerian. The combination of romantic rhetoric and moments of counterpoint add an idiosyncratic charm and learned harmony to the exotic sounds in sonata-form, which often exploit the harmonic overtones of the E-flat scale. Conductor Paris has in his color arsenal the benefits of studies with Paul Paray and Pierre Dervaux, each of whom championed this bravura concerto. The Andante – Allegretto tranquillo quasi andantino – Andante second movement Saint-Saëns wrote, “takes us on a journey to the East and even, in one section, to the Far East. The G major passage is a Nubian love song which I heard sung by the boatmen on the Nile as I went down the river in a dahabieh.” Various keyboard melismas and curling, syncopated, chromatic runs contribute to the feeling that we have indulged in hookahs and watched baskets of snakes to be charmed by fakirs. Perhaps the Javanese gamelan colors the later proceedings as well. Rubacktye projects a loving, erotic sonority throughout these Eastern excursions. The bouncy, vivacious Molto allegro finale include “program” motifs from the oboe and tympani that contribute to the effect of a sea voyage. The keyboard’s cascading fireworks resound with “jazzy” elements we know from Gottschalk and later Gershwin. Ms. Rubacktye’s virtuosity has made a believer out of me.