July 28, 2013
Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) seemed to have it all yet his work has never been accepted like so many of his contemporaries. He was a virtuoso pianist who was once paid by Steinway to tour the US at $200.00 per performance/recital, a lot of money at the time. He taught Tchaikovsky, started the St. Petersburg Conservatory, was a prolific writer of over 100 compositions but was a Jew, refused to be bullied into joining the “Mighty Five,” and had a Germanic approach to much of his material.
The main theme (moderato assai) of the first movement is presented by the woodwinds, a bright uplifting one that is repeated by the strings with pizzicato also provided by strings for harmony. This is definitely a Russian theme but it is blended with Rubinstein’s classic Mendelssohn/Germanic style, something which kept him at odds with Balakirev and his group for most of his life. A second theme is introduced by the woodwinds and this one is played as well as the main theme for the rest of the movement. No surprises here just a structurally sound movement.
The Scherzo offers a new theme which is introduced by the clarinet and is passed on to the oboe, flute, and finally violin. A somber second theme is introduced and like the first movement is intertwined with the first theme.
The Andante features a French horn which offers a somber quiet melody with minimal harmony from a trumpet. Strings along with the Oboe continue developing the theme. While a little more subtle in nature it has a Russian nature to it. The movement ends on a quiet note featuring the flute.
The Allegro Vivace is the fourth and final movement and departs from the nationalism of the previous three. The theme is allowed full development with a forte separating the return to the theme. The conclusion is a rousing one and a strong point of the work.
Dimitry Donsky (1850) turned out to be a failed Opera attempt which years later Rimsky-Korsakov referred to as somebody’s Opera. Presented here is the overture twelve minutes in length which is ample time to fully develop the main theme. It begins quietly with the first theme being offered by the clarinet which passes it on to the horns offering nice harmonic chords. It builds in intensity and the strings offer a second theme which is a slower pace but it builds in intensity and tempo. The flute and woodwinds introduce a third theme which is quickly replaced by the second which by now has a strong powerful feel to it. The conclusion is a nice majestic brass driven statement that will get your attention.
Faust (1864) was originally part of a symphony that was never fully published but Rubinstein preserved a single movement of 20 minutes (the prelude) which told the story of Faust. It is a very heavy Wagnerian style work with all instruments being given a workout as the story unfolds. A held brass chord opens the work and the strings offer a somewhat complex melody and this technique is repeated before a second heroic melody is introduced by the brass. The harmony is on the dramatic side and rather heavy in texture. This theme is offered by the woodwinds as it is exchanged. The strings offer another melody which is quite dramatic and urgent in nature. As the movement continues it seems to run the gamut of emotions ranging from a fanfare, a quiet passage that features a bassoon and English Horn, a trombone motif, and backing from the strings. This overall is not an easy listen and your attention must be focused intently on what you’re hearing.
While I can’t say that your collection isn’t complete without this recording I will say that Rubinstein does have something to offer classical music and this is a CD to be explored. One person says that the Faust performance is well worth the cost of the CD. Another person wondered why Naxos decided to re-release this recording from the somewhat defunct Marco Polo division. The orchestra gives a credible performance and the engineering staff nicely recorded the material. Samples of the material are available on Classics Online. This release is available as a download or CD. If you’ve not signed up at Classics Online your entitled to 5 free tracks so the Faust could be included.
Symphony No. 5 in G minor, Op. 107
1… Moderato assai (11.25)
2… Allegro non troppo- Moderato assai (7:29)
3… Andante (9:30)
4… Allegro vivace (11:06)
5… Dmitry Donsky-Overture (12:04)
6… Faust (19.56)
Total Time is 71:30