In January 2008 I attended a private recital
by cellist Jiří Bárta and pianist Hamish Milne of these
Rubinstein Sonatas; just a couple of days before that
they had recorded them at Potton Hall. A few weeks before that
I had been able to hear Jiří Bárta at another recital playing
works for violin and cello with Chloë Hanslip. I was as impressed
by the two Cello Sonatas then at my first hearing as
I am now on this recording. Rubinstein is a composer who people
have heard of rather than have heard. Thankfully the number
of Rubinstein recordings in the catalogues is steadily growing.
Probably his best known works are the Piano Concerto No.
4, the Symphony No. 2, ‘The Ocean’ and some
will have heard of his opera ‘The Demon’.
When I initially reviewed
his early Octet, Op. 9 and Quintet, Op. 55 on
Orfeo I wasn’t too impressed and wrote, “There are no undiscovered
gems of chamber music repertoire to be discovered here. The
scores could be described as mediocre and lacklustre.” Over
time my view has altered somewhat and the more I hear these
chamber scores the more I am able to appreciate them.
Recently I was bowled over by a splendid 1995
recording of Rubinstein’s Viola Sonata, Op. 49 a rarely
heard gem on Arta Records F1 0062-2: Viola Sonata in F minor,
Op. 49; Hindemith Viola Sonata For Solo Viola, Op. 25,
No. 1; Ernest Bloch Suite Hébraïque for viola and piano;
Lukáš Matoušek Intimate Music for solo viola. Karel Doležal
(viola) and Kyoko Hashimoto (piano), recorded in 1995 at the
Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, Prague.
In the sonata presented on this Hyperion disc
one is struck by the predominantly mellow voice of the cello
offset by a highly active and often intricate piano part. Bárta
and Milne are a splendid partnership and this recital is a resounding
success. Their eloquent playing is strong yet sensitive with
a lofty technical excellence coupled with impressive sound quality.
The Cello Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op.
18 lasts just under half an hour and is probably my favourite
of the two scores. Rubinstein composed the D major score
in 1852 around the time of writing his opera ‘The Siberian
Hunters’ and between the composition of his Symphony
No.2 ‘Ocean’, Op. 42 and the Symphony No.3,
Op. 56. The yearning character of the cello dominates in the
extended opening movement Allegro moderato that also
includes some passages of a more dramatic nature. In the middle
movement Moderato assai the cello sings an agreeable
intermezzo-like song that is intimate and atmospheric. Noticeably
the central core of the movement contains music of a more passionate
nature. Marked Moderato in the final movement Rubinstein’s
writing has an optimistic quality of contentment. The
tempo quickens to give the score a forceful and victorious conclusion.
At forty minutes duration the Cello Sonata
No. 2 in G major, Op. 39 is an ambitious four movement score.
It was composed in 1857 a product of the time of Rubinstein’s
four-year European concert tour that he had begun in 1854. It
seems that he carried out considerable revision on the Sonata.
A feeling of anguish pervades the troubled opening Allegro
followed by a rather restrained Scherzo containing
mainly passive and agreeable writing. The third movement Andante
has a gentle and flowing if somewhat unmemorable melodic cello
line. I found the relaxing closing section especially pleasing.
The cleverly elaborated and even-tempered final Moderato
provides the soloists with plenty of opportunities for virtuosic