A

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894). composer, teacher, performer, lived a full life. The head of the school in St. Petersburg, the very first to offer Russian classes in harmony, composition, melody, etc., to the delight of people such as Rachmaninoff, Gliere, and Chopin, the list goes on. However, while a good composer, his promoting himself as a pianist proved to be a downfall for him as the powers that be in Russia didn’t approve, and the composing and touring proved too much for him. For those interested, there is an excellent biography by Philip Taylor that covers his life very well, good and bad. While a good teacher, he didn’t get along well with his students, and as a result, he formed no lasting relationships with any of them.

Born in

Anton Stephanich Arensky (1861-1906) was born to wealthy parents who took advantage of the conservative system formed by the Rubenstein’s in Moscow and St. Petersburg during a good time for music in the mid to late 19th century. After writing songs and works, many of which showed a real talent by the age of 9, the family moved to St. Petersburg. He learned counterpoint, harmony, composition, and instrumentation from Rimsky-Korsakov at the Rubenstein run school during the 1870s.

At 21, he graduated and was given the highest mark in harmony by Tchaikovsky, Arensky went back and forth between the two cities) a lifelong advisor, till his death promoting his work even to his own publishers. His twelve years teaching Gliere, Rachmaninoff, and others proved a plus in his life. Rachmaninoff, who dedicated the C-sharp minor op. 3 ( Morceaux de Fantaisie) to him, again was a feather in his cap, and his work with Scribian proved well for him.

In 1888 obtained the position of Russian Choral Society Director, a position he held until 1901 when he retired on his 6000 rubles per year pension, twice the amount Balakirev received because he worked long and hard hours. In addition, he wrote a book of “Collection of 1000 tasks for the Practical Study of Harmony,” something still used today.

Alcohol, not to the extent of Moussorgsky, but enough to have him hospitalized in 1887 for a mental breakdown, to the happiness of friends Taneyev and Tchaikovsky hoping for a cure. While it lasted for a short time, being a true alcoholic, as well as a gambler and carouser, he returned to his old ways until consumption forced him to a sanatorium. He died in St. Petersburg at the age of 44, leaving 70 opuses and a trail of poor judgment behind him; Scriabin and Lyapunov come to mind as examples. Both Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky said what might have been.

Considered by many to have an incredible melodic talent, he produced some well-known chamber works, along with operas, a piano concerto, symphonies, songs, and a ballet this review is about. Written in 1900, first performed in 1908 at the Marllinsky theater in St. Petersburg with choreography by Mikhail Fokin. The work was taken from William Lane’s “An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians,” music taken from overture in the book, which sets the stage for the story of Cleopatra and Amoun, who became quite smitten so far he would give his life for one kiss. While Cleopatra finds him attractive but grants he wishes not quite to his extreme, even though the I love you arrow got her attention, she does end up sailing away with Antony, Amoun throwing his feet at Bernice, who takes him back to who he was going to marry until he saw Cleopatra. Finally, Amoun is saved from dying by the high priest, and you have your story.

The ballet is a series of 13 dances plus the overture, played twice, a rousing feel-good horn-driven melodic theme. Arensky uses the harp to bring out the softer quiet passages along with a solo violin and cello, which I approve of. It has the sound of being a lot more modern sounding than 1900. Again, Max Steiner comes to mind. Between his trips from Moscow to St. Petersburg, he developed a unique sound combining Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Slavic with a light, airy touch, plus his melodic talent.

After the opening Ouverture, which sets the mood for the ballet, the 1st dance is ‘Scene and Coquetry Dance,’ a soft pretty melody played by flute and finally solo violin with a feeling of tranquility and romance filling the air. Part of this theme is included in his Suites. ‘Entry of Cleopatra and Scene as she takes her place on the stage majestically and dramatically. ‘Dance of Arsinoe and the Slaves‘ is a series of divertissements featuring winds and strings. It is one of two Arsinoe dances, the other being ‘Snake-charmer: Second Dance of Arsinoe’ mildly exotic as Berenice entertains Cleopatra. ‘Dance of the Jewish Girls‘ is taken from “Miriam’s Song of Joy,” a pretty Yiddish melody. ‘Dance of the Egyptian Girls’ gives away his Russian heritage though not out of place, and ‘Dance of the Ghazis‘ is a standard eight-note melody pleasant enough, a dance for the victorious warriors. Finally, there is a pretty Tempo di Valse waltz salon piece.

‘Solemn Entry of Antony’ is a fitting piece of music with a Rimsky-Korsakov style to it, a short Harp cadenza, and the Finale to this pleasant piece.

I have always found the playing and conducting of Yablonsky and the Moscow Symphony to be filled with energy and enthusiasm performing lesser-known Russian works. Therefore, I am happy with this recording and can recommend it to you.

I can also suggest two Naxos recordings of more Arensky recordings #8553768 and 8.570526 fine recordings in the Yablonsky tradition.