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ClassicsOnline Home » RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
Rubinstein 1and 2
I have two recordings of Rubinstein's 4TH concerto and a recording of his 3rd and just through interest I downloaded this disc. Generally I am quite surprised that it is so enjoyable and the 1st concerto has some really nice passages. Tuttis are often thickly scored and the coda to the finale to the 1st is quite awful. Often Rubinstein's codas, whilst being technically very difficult, are often rather tedious. None of his concertos come anywhere near those of, say, Scharvenka, but I can recommend this disc to those who like to explore the Romantic Piano Concerto repertoire as I do.
The performances and sound are very acceptable but the opening brass to the slow movement to the 1st Concerto employ a lot of vibrato in the style of Russian and East European orchestras a couple of decades ago[and before]. This does not worry me because I like to occasionally hear these timbres which seem to have disappeared nowadays and all orchestras sadly sound almost the same.
Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Major, Op. 25
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 35
Anton Rubinstein was a towering figure of Russian musical
life, and one of the 19th century's most charismatic musical figures. Rivalled
at the keyboard only by Liszt, he was near the last in a line of
pianist-composers that climaxed with Liszt, Busoni, and Rachmaninov. His vast
compositional output, much of it containing music of beauty and originality,
still remains relatively unexplored territory. Rubinstein's eight works for
piano and orchestra span the last four and a half decades of his creative life.
The five concertos were written from 1850-1874, and especially the third,
fourth, and fifth were frequently heard well into this century.
Rubinstein's Concerto No.1, Op. 25, was written in 1850,
then published in 1858. It is dedicated to Alexander Villoing, the composer's
principal piano teacher. Actually this work is Rubinstein's fourth attempt at
writing a concerto, for two earlier unpublished such works from 1849 are lost,
and a third from the same year saw final publication as the Piano Octet, op. 9.
Although the First Concerto is the most traditional of the five concertos, a
characteristic leonine quality in the piano scoring often emerges. The dramatic
opening movement is cast in traditional sonata-form. After an extended
orchestral exposition of the movement's primary themes, the piano enters with a
dotted-rhythm figuration which immediately introduces the movement's principal
theme, now boldly stated by the piano in chords and octaves. A lyrical second
theme and a tarantella-like closing theme lead to a traditional developing,
then re-stating, of previous material. The movement concludes with a massive
coda that is typical virtuosic Rubinstein, yet which dramatically dies away in
the last bars. The opening warm lyrical theme of the second movement is
presented successively by the orchestra and piano, then is interrupted by a
more dramatic and impassioned middle section, and finally is returned by the
orchestra while being accompanied by rippling arpeggios on the piano. To act as
a transition in mood, Rubinstein now has the orchestra introduce the third
movement with a melody that, although not identical, resembles the main theme
of the second movement. But the piano impatiently interrupts three times, and
finally bursts out with the rollicking main theme of the movement. Heard in
several guises and in the company of a number of other themes, it finally is
brought back in the "wrong" keys of F and A-flat major. Rubinstein
quickly shifts to the home tonality of E major before ending the First Concerto
with a huge coda, replete with a stretch of unrelenting virtuoso octaves on the
piano which must have daunted many a fledgling virtuoso of the day. The
orchestra at the same time is heard in a march-like theme first given earlier
in the movement which brings the work to a triumphant conclusion.
Although Rubinstein's Concerto No. 2, Op. 35, was written
but a year after the First Concerto, it emerged on an altogether larger scale
both structurally and emotionally. Throughout Rubinstein's writing there now is
a much greater mastery of balance between the orchestra and piano, with
textures and colours being more complex and richer. The scoring for bath
orchestra and piano is considerably more technically demanding and imaginative.
Although the first movement is in sonata-form, Rubinstein tightens the feeling
of structure by the omission of a traditional double stating of the principal
themes by the orchestra and then the piano, and has the soloist enter not with
the main opening theme, but with transitional material that leads fairly
quickly into the rather melancholy second theme. He also adds a cadenza shortly
before the end of the first movement which he begins suprisingly enough, yet
nonetheless effectively, with a short fugato section. The coda is based on both
the principal and closing themes, and has the piano ending the movement with an
upward thrust of octaves similar to those used almost a quarter of a century
later by Tchaikovsky at the end of his own First Concerto.
The emotional heart of the Second Concerto is to be found in
the hauntingly expressive and intense second movement. After
an opening section that gives the soloist near improvisatory passages marked
"Tempo ad libitum, quasi praeludando," a central section, which shows
Rubinstein in his most majestic and noble mood, has a long horn solo supported by
the orchestra and mountainous thick chords in the piano scoring. The opening
dirge-like section recurs, then all ends darkly with slow piano arpeggios and
two final muffled pizzicatos in the orchestra, The third movement immediately
lightens up the seriousness of the preceding slow movement with a naïve,
dance-like main theme presented by the piano. After several subsidiary themes
and a developing of material, Rubinstein tightens the structure drastically by
abbreviating the main theme's return, and omitting a re-statement of secondary
thematic material. He ends everything with a characteristic virtuosic display
of alternating octaves for the pianist.
Of Joseph Banowetz' present series of
Rubinstein recordings, Fanfare music review (U.S.) has termed Banowetz "a
technician in the same league as Earl Wild and the late Jorge Bolet, with
plenty of sensibility to go along with the dexterity." And Classic CD has
written that "Joseph Banowetz is a magnificent pianist, who plays the
music for all it's worth," Born in the United States, part of Banowetz'
early training was in New York City with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara
Schumann. After continuing his studies at Vienna's Hochschule, Banowetz' career
was launched upon his graduating with a First Prize in piano performance. He
was then sent by the Austrian government on an extended European concert tour.
Subsequently he has performed on five continents. Banowetz has recorded with
the Czechoslovak State Radio Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong Kong
Philharmonic and the China Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing.
Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)
The East Slovakian town of Košice boasts a
long and distinguished musical tradition, as part of a province that once
provided Vienna with musicians. The State Philharmonic Orchestra is of
relatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductor
Bystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macura
and Ladislav Slovák, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer.
The orchestra has toured widely in Eastern and Western Europe and plays an
important part in the Košice Musical Spring and the Košice International Organ
For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the
first compact disc recordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim
Raff. Writing on the last of these, one critic praised the orchestra for its
competence comparable to that of the major orchestras of Vienna and Prague. The
orchestra has contributed many successful volumes to the complete compact disc
Johann Strauss II and for Naxos has recorded a varied repertoire.
Alfred Waller was born in Southern Bohemia
in 1929 of Austrian parents. He studied at the University of Graz and in 1948
was appointed assistant conductor to the Opera of Ravensburg. At the age of 22
he became conductor of the Graz Opera, where he continued until 1965, while
serving at Bayreuth as assistant to Hans Knappertsbusch and Karl Böhm. From
1966 until 1969 he was Principal Conductor of the Durban Symphony Orchestra in
South Africa, followed by a period of 15 years as General Director of Music in
Münster. In Vienna he has worked as guest conductor at the State Opera and in
1986 was given the title of Professor by the Austrian Government. In 1980 he
was awarded the Golden Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Society. For
Marco Polo, Alfred Walter has recorded more than 15 volumes of the label's
Johann Strauss II Edition, works by von Schillings, von Einem, de Bériot,
Reinecke and all symphonic works of Furtwängler. He is currently engaged in
recording the complete symphonies of Spohr.
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RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2