> Anton Rubinstein - Six Etudes, Barcarolles [MC]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-94)
Six Etudes, Op. 23 (1849-1850) [36:00]
No. 1 in F major
No. 2 in C major, ‘Staccato Etude’
No. 3 in C sharp major
No. 4 in E flat major
No. 5 in F major
No. 6 in G major
Barcarolles (1854-1884) [39:51]
No. 1 in F minor Op. 30, No. 1 (1852)
No. 2 in A minor, Op. 45(bis) (1857)
No. 3 in G minor, Op. 50, No. 3 (1854-58)
No. 4 in G major (1870)
No. 5 in A minor, Op. 93, No. 4 (1872-73)
No. 6 in C minor, Op.104, No. 4 (1884)
Alexander Paley (piano)
Recorded at Fisher Hall, Santa Rosa, California, 5th to 7th July, 1994. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.223894 [75:51]


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Anton Rubinstein was a child prodigy who became one of the world’s most gifted pianists, an eminent composer, a conductor, a writer, a teacher and a co-founder and principal of the St. Petersburg Conservatorium. As a composer he was prolific and admired rather than being influential. Composing in most genres his output included 6 symphonies, several concertante works for piano and orchestra, numerous chamber music and solo piano music. Rubinstein was revered in his time but now his music is infrequently performed and seems unfashionable.

As a young boy he undertook his first European tour concert tour and met Franz Liszt, in Paris. Rubinstein spent much of his life travelling as a concert pianist and conducting visiting England on several occasions and also toured America. I feel that this aspect of Rubinstein’s life is important to highlight as his cosmopolitan lifestyle undoubtedly influenced and coloured his compositions.

Music writer Frederick Corder expresses the opinion in Grove that, "Rubinstein’s playing was not only remarkable for the absolute perfection of his technique, in which he was the only rival Liszt ever had, but there was the fire and the soul which only a true and genial composer can possess." Corder also had a high regard for Rubinstein’s piano compositions stating that they, "are far superior to most of their class, his writing for the instrument being enviably most brilliant, as is but natural in so great a pianist."

With regard to the music presented on this CD, Charles Barber states in the booklet notes that, "Here on the instrument to which he was born may be heard some of his most idiomatic and powerful conceptions. Though of manic difficulty, they almost bear touches of maturity and reflection which contradict those who claim, as, with Mendelssohn, it all came too easily."

There are few discs of Rubinstein’s solo piano music available and it is pleasing to have a new release of his works. However these performances were recorded eight years ago and must have been hiding away in the vaults until now.

The six etudes or studies Op. 23 are early Rubinstein works composed between 1849 and 1850. These etudes are not mere technical exercises. He wrote them to display poetical and dramatic scenes; like a Constable landscape painting in the manner of Alkan, Schumann and Chopin. With the etudes Rubinstein certainly examines the possibilities of the piano. The Russian soloist Alexander Paley is tested to the limit too, with rapid-fire staccatos to fiendishly difficult prestos to wondrous arpeggios. Paley is unfortunately not always up to the test of these difficult man-trap like etudes, particularly in the first and second etudes where there are several examples of untidy playing.

The six barcarolles which Rubinstein wrote over a 32 year period are very attractive examples of the style as written by Chopin and Mendelssohn. An enthusiastic Paley seems happier playing these barcarolles than with the etudes and gives a fine performance with thoughtful and sensitive playing throughout the ebb and flow of these works.

However it almost seems pointless writing about the quality of the compositions and Paley’s performances when the sound quality is the stumbling block. All the fortissimo passages at the extreme ends of Paley’s Steinway keyboard cause the sound to badly blur. Furthermore the dynamic range is too wide … and fiddling about with the volume control becomes tedious. No wonder these performances have been hiding away for eight years!

Michael Cookson

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