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ClassicsOnline Home » RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Caprice Russe
Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op.
Caprice russe, Op. 102
Anton Rubinstein was one of the Romantic
era's most charismatic musical figures, and near the last in a line of
pianist-composers that reached a climax with Liszt, Busoni, and Rachmaninov. As
a performer, some thought him at times to rival even Liszt himself. Rubinstein's
reputation as one of Russia's seminal composers of the nineteenth century has
remained controversial to this day, with much of his vast compositional output
remaining unexplored either on the concert platform or on recordings even in
his own country.
Over the final 44 years of his life Rubinstein
published eight works for piano and orchestra, with the five concertos dating
from 1850-1874. Two earlier unpublished piano concertos, now lost, were written
in 1849, and a third "concerto" was revised and published as the Octet,
Op. 9. During the later 19th and early 20th centuries the concertos
achieved enormous popularity, not only when performed by the composer himself,
but by such distinguished artists as Hans von Bülow, Busoni, Anna Essipova, Paderewski,
Rachmaninov, and the composer's own brother Nikolai. Josef Hofmann, Rubinstein's
most noted pupil, continued to perform both the Third and Fourth Concertos well
into the 1940s, and Josef Lhévinne made his United
States début in 1906 with the Fifth Concerto.
The Fifth Concerto was composed in
1874. It is by far the most gargantuan of any of Rubinstein's piano and
orchestra works, both by virtue of its nearly fifty minutes of music and the
extreme physical demands made on the soloist. Significantly, Rubinstein
dedicated the Fifth Concerto to Charles Valentin Alkan (real name
Morhange), the eccentric French pianist-composer whose own keyboard works often
contain similar pianistic extravagances. Rubinstein's writing in the Fifth
Concerto has been accused of being at times derivative of both Beethoven
and Liszt. Such strong influences were perhaps inevitable for a composer such
as Rubinstein, whose style was undeniably influenced both by the German school
stemming from Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and by the keyboard wizardry of Liszt.
Conversely, the influence that Rubinstein's compositions and performance style
had on such contemporaries as Tchaikovsky, Balakirev, and both the young Busoni
and Rachmaninov cannot be ignored. Tchaikovsky, who for the most part was
caustic in his opinions of Rubinstein's compositions, in his own First Piano
Concerto (which was finished close to a year after Rubinstein's Fifth
Concerto) came perilously close to an outright plagiarizing of certain of Rubinstein's
In the Fifth Concerto, as in his
other piano concertos, Rubinstein largely adheres to traditional structure. The
opening huge movement is in sonata form, complete with a solo piano cadenza. In
the opening principal theme given by the orchestra there is a pentatonic
flavour, which to the listener sounds vaguely Oriental. At the close of the
movement's exposition section, the series of elephantine, powerful ascending
chords played by the piano against the horns of the orchestra must have been a
strong stimulus for Tchaikovsky's own famous opening to his First Concerto. Rubinstein's
extreme demands for the soloist include extended octave passages and huge
chords written expressly for the composer's own mammoth reach, and difficult
trills in double notes for both hands.
The dark, sombre second movement is in
three-part form, with rhapsodic passages in the piano which punctuate and
answer the quiet, folk-like material initially given in the orchestra. After an
impassioned solo piano cadenza finally signals the return to the opening
material, Rubinstein now reverses the order of themes, then ends the movement
with three pizzicatos and a muffled, ominious muttering of the timpani.
The finale is constructed in sonata-rondo
form. Like the first movement, it is built on a huge scale, with enormous
musical gestures and technical demands for the soloist. Following several
statements of a wild, rollicking theme that might be nicknamed "The
Hunt", Rubinstein has the piano play an Italian dance tune over a typical
Central Italian drone bass of open fifths. (In the manuscript Rubinstein
indicates this as a "Tarantella napolitaine populaire".) Considerable
glittering technical display for the pianist follows, then a concluding
explosion of upward moving interlocking octaves, reminiscent of the close of
the first movement of Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, brings this titanic
movement to a suitably brilliant conclusion.
Although Rubinstein had written some works
in a Russian vein as early as 1852, he largely avoided exploiting such
nationalistic materials until the composing of the Caprice russe in
1878. Several other "Russian" works would soon follow, including the
opera The Merchant Kalashnikov and the Fifth Symphony. The
Caprice is dedicated to Anna Essipova, both a student and the second wife of Theodor
Leschetizky. Essipova would later teach at the St. Petersburg Conservatory,
where her pupils would include Prokofiev. The Caprice falls into four tempo
sections: Moderato assai, Allegro moderato, Tempo I, Allegro (and
coda). Three Russian folk songs of dubious origin are used throughout.
In addition to Rubinstein's ingenious manipulating and combining of these themes,
midway through he adds a repetitive orchestral background of dance-like
material, similar to that found in Glinka's work for orchestra entitled Kamarinskaya.
The piano in the meantime is given glittering figuration that shows-off the
The Caprice at first gained
immediate public favour, with even the usually critical Tchaikovsky admiring in
particular the orchestral writing. Then, as was sadly true of many of Rubinstein's
works for piano and orchestra, it sank into undeserved obscurity. It is one of
the composer's most engaging works, and along with the Fifth Concerto deserving
of much wider audience familiarity.
This performance of the Caprice russe is
a world-première recording.
Of Joseph Banowetz' current series of Rubinstein
recordings, Fanfare record review (U.S.) has written that "Joseph Banowetz
has the stuff of the legendary pianists of the past in him and displays it in
the complete Rubinstein piano concertos", and has described him as "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 its 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 the Vienna Hochschule, Banowetz'
career was launched upon his graduating with a First Prize in piano
performance, then being sent by the Austrian government on an extended European
concert tour. Subsequently he has performed on five continents. Banowetz has
recorded with the Slovak State Radio Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong
Kong Philharmonic and the China Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing. For Naxos
he has recorded the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, and the Concertos Nos. 1 and 2,
and Totentanz of Liszt.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
(Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at
the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the
sphere of music. Ondrej Lenárd was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977
its conductor-in-chief, succeeded recently by Robert Stankovsky .The orchestra
has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia,
Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan.
For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky
and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian
as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos
recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by
Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.
Robert Stankovsky was born in Bratislava,
the capital of Slovakia, in 1964, and after a childhood spent in the study of
the piano, recorder, oboe and clarinet, turned his attention, at the age of
fourteen, to conducting, graduating in this and in piano at the Bratislava
Conservatory with the title of best graduate of the year. Stankovsky is
regarded as one of the most talented conductors of the younger generation in Czecho-Slovakia.
For Marco Polo he has recorded symphonies by Rubinstein and Miaskovsky in
addition to orchestral works by Dvořák and Smetana.
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RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Caprice Russe