Symphony No. 2 ‘Ocean’ and Ballet Music from Feramors/Rubinstein

April 18, 2012

When one thinks of Rubinstein the first thing that comes to this reviewer’s mind is the world famous concert pianist Arturo who gave us 100’s of hours of listening pleasure. Did you know that there was another Rubinstein who was compared with Franz Liszt? Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) was the composer of 120 works including six symphonies, five piano concertos, ten operas, and numerous chamber, tone poems, and solo piano works. Although he was Russian born his sound could never be confused for anything done by the ‘Mighty Five’ and perhaps as a result he suffered a fate of obscurity. Yet Tchaikovsky was his student and he started the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. If you were to make the comment that Anton was a student of Felix Mendelssohn few would argue with you. In fact he was belittled by his contemporaries in Russia as fluff, no substance, and the list could go on. Cui wrote of him as “merely a Russian who composes his music allied rather to that of Germany.” Lizst described Rubinstein “as a fountain of bad music.” Music critic Gerald Abraham referred to him as “a highly competent imitation of Mendelssohn or Schumann.

His second symphony which is called ‘Ocean’ was written in 1851 and what you’ll hear on this Delos recording is the first original version. As time passed Anton came up with additional ideas and the work has been revised and re-revised. There is a Naxos recording 8.555392 which was the final revision of 1880 and includes seven movements (nicknamed the seven seas). For your information there was another revision with six movements that to the best of my knowledge is not available to listen to. Listed below is a chart which shows the difference between the Naxos and the Delos recordings.

Naxos Track Listing
1… Moderato assai (#1 on Delos)
2… Lento assai (new)
3… Andante (new)
4… Allegro (#3 on Delos)
5… Andante (#2 on Delos)
6… Scherzo (new)
7… Andante (#4 on Delos)

The first movement sets the mood as the sea is depicted with its power, calm, and beauty. It begins with tremolo from the strings as the flutes offer a theme which sets the mood for this major passage. The entire orchestra comes to a rousing crescendo with majestic fanfare from the horns. A second romantic melody is offered by the strings with harmony from the rest of the string section and while this is an upbeat section of the movement one can hear the impending conflict brewing in the background depicting the turbulence of the sea. The adagio second movement offers a yearning melody with excellent counterpoint from the orchestra. The tempo is quite slow but one can feel that it deliberately moves ever forward. The third movement, an allegro, is quite proud and majestic with horns complementing the string work. It begins with the strings offering a very Germanic melody. This is a happy time for the sea. Tchaikovsky quotes “… reproduces the rough gaiety and the dances of sailors in a very elastic way.” The fourth movement is another adagio and gives one last storm before a rousing conclusion. Again the sound is very Germanic. If you accept this work for what it is then you’ll have another ocean/water concept in your collection, a well subject that many of the great composers have written about.

Feramors (1862), written ten years after the ‘Ocean’ symphony, is an opera that first premiered in 1863 and is based on a story of Lalla a princess who is engaged to marry a king but falls in love with the minstrel Feramors who is the king in disguise. What is offered on this CD is the ballet music from the three act opera.

“Dance of the Bayaderes” begins the suite with a nice melody filled with gaiety, well developed as the composer returns to the melody for the entire dance. “Dance of the Kashmiri Brides” offers a hint of the orient but somewhat subtle in nature if your familiar with the mystic sound of Rimsky-Korsakov and others. Two minutes into the movement the style changes and you hear a more traditional waltz. “Dance of the Bayaderes II is one that begins with a sense of urgency evolving into something quite lively and frantic. “Wedding Procession,” the final selection is a march filled with splendor and grandeur offering a happy ending.

The digital recording is a nice clean transfer with nice balance between the treble, bass, and individual clarity of the solo instruments when called for. The liner notes are excellent except for one minor point. His third symphony hasn’t been lost and is available from Naxos. If you accept Rubinstein as a Russian who wrote Germanic style material this CD will give you the opportunity to listen to some interesting melodic material from a composer that many of you are not familiar with. Recommended!

Track Listing:

Symphony No.2 in C Major ‘Ocean’, Op.42 (original version, 1851)

1… Allegro maestoso (15:56)

2… Adagio non tanto (10:51)

3… Allegro (6:10)

4… Adagio Allegro con fuoco (14:37)

Ballet Music from Feramors, Opera in 3 Acts (1862)

5… Dance of the Bayaderes I (5:02)

6… Dance of the Kashmiri Brides (5:03)

7… Dance of the Bayaderes II (4:33)

8… Wedding Procession (3:52)

Total Playing Time is 66:11

DELOS DRD 2010

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