Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Romantic Violin Concertos series

Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Violin Concerto in G major, Op.46 (1857)
Takako Nishizaki (violin); Hong Kong Philharmonic, Kenneth Schermerhorn
Rec. Reduta, Bratislava, July 1985
César CUI
Suite Concertante for violin and orchestra, Op.25 (1884)
Takako Nishizaki (violin); Slovak Philharmonic, Michael Halász
Rec. Tsuen Wan Town Hall, Hong Kong, 14th -17th October 1984
NAXOS 8.555244 [58.35]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Remembered as an outstanding pianist who rivalled Liszt, Rubinstein's abilities as a composer are less well known. His compositions in general were not well received by his Russian contemporaries, possibly because he moved away from the accepted nationalistic style and adopted 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.

His Violin Concerto is an elegant work full of energy and with strong dialogue existing between orchestra and soloist. Despite his critics, Rubinstein shows he has a fine command of structure, and his orchestration is as well crafted as Mendelssohn and his contemporaries.

An elegant and attractive opening to the first movement holds a promise of good things to come and anticipates a fine concerto. Certainly the work is as fluent as those masters of concerto writing. But for me, the development in the second and third movements loses some of the initial momentum and the staves seem to drift aimlessly by. (Tchaikovsky's critics who condemned his ballet-like symphonies would certainly agree with this.)


Cui follows the main Russian nationalist composers who all composed whilst continuing to work at mainstream jobs. Cui, much in keeping with his background as a son of a French army officer, was an expert on military fortifications. He furthered his musical interests in St. Petersburg where he was studying military engineering. Interestingly, Cui was one of the critics of Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky and promoted the Russian ideals in music. He wrote songs, piano pieces, choral works and orchestral pieces yet shied away from symphonic writing. Few of these works have been recorded, however.

Cui's Suite Concertante like Rubinstein's work is a well-constructed work full of contrasts and demonstrates this composer's good command of structure, and orchestration. The work also exists as a piece for violin and piano.

The Intermezzo's brief orchestral introduction followed by solo violin in Russian gypsy mood that bounces along to a sharp unprecedented close. Then follows a nomadic and flowing movement which meanders with a hint of Smetana's Moldau before returning to the opening gypsy theme. The waltz theme introduced at the end is unusual and although pleasant it seems out of place. The Canzonetta is a modern sounding movement that could have been a model of the valse movement in Coates' 'Four Centuries' suite. The Cavatina is a rich, well-structured lyrical movement punctuated by bright woodwind phrases. In contrast, the Tarantella returns briefly to the dark gypsy theme before snapping its bonds and releasing us into a Tchaikovsky-like theme that takes us to a brief orchestral finale.

In both performances a highly accomplished Takako Nishizaki plays the violin with much energy and feeling. Likewise, the orchestras play with competence.

The fine recordings are well balanced with the soloist forward focused yet not so prominently as to lose the interesting orchestral detail. These two recordings were previously issued on Marco Polo and are now given a further lease of life under the cheaper Naxos label.

The CD gives us an opportunity to compare two Russian composers who are separately attempting to promote the German and Russian schools of music tradition. The compositions are placed 27 years apart, with Cui's work being written long after the criticism of Rubinstein's adoption of the German style. The listener will probably consider Cui's initial commitment to the Russian school somewhat waning.

Raymond Walker

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: