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Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Symphony No. 1, Op. 40 (1850)
Allegro con fuoco

Ivan the Terrible, Op. 79 (1869)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/Stankovsky
Rec. 1989 at the House of Arts, Kosice, Slovakia
NAXOS 8.555476 [60.29]
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We remember Anton RUBINSTEIN as an outstanding pianist who rivalled, and even outshone, Liszt. He gave his first public concert when aged 10 and toured Scandinavia, Austria, Germany, London and Paris as a child virtuoso. The family settled in Berlin where Rubinstein took lessons in counterpoint and harmony from Glinka's former teacher, Dehn. Returning to Russia he became director of St Petersburg Conservatorium until 1867 he had turned his back on the nationalistic style of his Russian contemporaries, (Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui) and followed the traditions of the German school. As the son of German-Jewish parents who had chosen to become Christians he shared with Mendelssohn a similar background and was influenced by his style of composition.

The Symphony No. 1 in F Major is a charming and well-crafted work, written at a time when Rubinstein was in St Petersburg, being supported by the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, sister-in-law of the Tsar. The work has strong influences of Mendelssohn (who died three years previously) with a clear framework, memorable themes and dynamic rhythms. This symphony combines technical skill with romantic charm.

An Allegro con fuoco begins brightly and moves forward with lively rhythm and purpose; Schubert very much in mind. Characteristically Mendelssohnian wind passages follow before being interrupted by abrupt chords from the strings. A mixture of purposeful effervescence and strong lilting Schubertian rhythm later pervades the movement. Rubinstein's skill in the mastery of techniques developed by the German school is very much in evidence. An Allegro then follows which opens with a hint of Smetana and a theme which provides a jolly first subject with playful wind joining in. A contrasting languid second subject maintains the pace briefly before reverting to the first subject. The Moderato introduces a melancholy funereal subject later becomes reminiscent of the marching theme in the second movement of Mendelssohn's Italian before hints of Midsummer Night's Dream break in. The ominous marching cellos and basses then continue with an airy theme carried by superimposed strings which eventually fade away. A final Allegro brings in sprightly thematic material with flutes and piccolo, again reminding one of Mendelssohn and Sullivan, particularly their Hebrides and L'Ile Enchantée respectively.

Ivan the Terrible, described as a 'musical portrait', is, surprisingly, a lively, stately and majestic piece which gives way to an undercurrent of mildly tense moments. It contains some characteristically Russian elements and is based on a play by Mey recounting the story of the Tsar's attack on Novgorod, and leading to the death of the Tsar's daughter whom he loved. We need to remember that this work, written in 1869, came long before Rimsky-Korsakov's The Maid of Pskov (1877) and The Tsar's Bride (1899) in which profiles of Ivan the Terrible feature.

This disc is a reissue of a recording which first appeared as a Marco Polo release. We owe it to Marco Polo for bringing out a series of five of Rubinstein's forgotten symphonies as well as his two Concertos for Piano & Orchestra.

The CD is well recorded and the orchestra play competently under Robert Stankovsky who studied at the Bratislava Conservatorium. Aged only 25 when he made this recording, he is regarded as one of the best conductors in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Kosice lies in a province which boasts a long tradition of providing Vienna with good musicians.

The disc carries good notes on the composer and works in English, French and German.

Raymond Walker

RUBINSTEIN Symphony CDs - Marco Polo

Symphony No.2, Slovak PO/Gunzenhauser Marco Polo 8.220449

Symphony No.4, Czech PO/Stankovsky Marco Polo 8.223319

Symphony No.5, Bucharest George Enescu PO/Andreescu Marco Polo 8.223320

Symphony No.6, Phil Hungarica/Varga Marco Polo 8.220449

It is not known whether these CDs will be reissued on Naxos but on the basis of this review they will provide interesting listening.

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