Anton Rubinstein first gained attention as a child
virtuoso at the piano. Having made his concert debut at the age of ten,
he would go on to rival Liszt, and played many concert tours throughout
France, Austria, Scandinavia and England, where he performed for Queen
Victoria. Upon the death of his father in 1846, he remained in Europe,
settling in Pressburg (modern day Bratislava), while his family returned
to Russia. He fell on financial hard times and eked out a living teaching
and playing until good fortune came upon him in the form of recognition
by a member of the Russian Imperial Family. Having found favor in the
eyes of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, a German and sister-in-law
to the Tsar, he would go on at her encouragement to found the now famous
St. Petersburg Conservatory. His brother, Nicolay would do likewise
in Moscow, and the two institutions would go on to launch some of the
greatest careers in nineteenth century Russian music, including Tchaikovsky’s.
Rubinstein was a prolific composer and was influenced
by the formality of the German school. Later in life, his music would
fall out of favor with the younger generation who espoused a more nationalistic
style of composition. Remembered today chiefly for the Melodie in
F for solo piano, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest
in his many chamber works, piano pieces, symphonies and operas.
Naxos have begun of late to release older items from
their more expensive Marco Polo label. This is a welcome thing, as much
of the Marco Polo repertoire is as adventuresome as the great explorer
himself, and one could be justifiably hesitant to drop the high dollars.
(Their acquisition of the now defunct Collins Classics catalogue is
also a great boon to music lovers!)
After a careful and open-minded listen to this recording,
I must confess that I am left rather uninterested in both this work
and this performance. Although there is a great deal of potential here,
the overlong movements seem to ramble on for lack of real thematic ideas,
and on the whole the work lacks structure. Unlike Bruckner, whose lengthy
expositions hold the listener’s attention by means of their taut control
of tension and release, Rubinstein presents a series of gestures which
are at times trite, at times disjunct and sadly, often just plain dull.
There are hints of great things to come in the orchestration,
and those who are familiar with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic works will be
able to take a look backwards and appreciate whence the younger composer’s
technique came. Alas, we are not given anything of substance to latch
onto, nor is it ever clear just what the composer is attempting to convey
in a work which is rather ineptly titled "Dramatic."
The composer is given little aid by Robert Stankovsky’s
rather purposeless reading. Although the Slovak State Philharmonic plays
professionally, they are given no real sense of forward direction; rather,
this seems to be more of a perfunctory reading, carried out with all
the enthusiasm one might invest in a book report. Sluggish tempi coupled
with a marked lack of rhythmic bite serve only to drag an already awkward
score further into the mud.
Recorded sound is adequate, although reserved. We get
nothing seat rumbling or earth shattering. The program notes by Keith
Anderson are outstanding.
If you are dying to hear some obscure Russian music,
then you might find this to your liking, but a special trip to the record
store for this one would be a waste of gasoline.