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Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Cello Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op. 18 (1852) [28:50]
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G major, Op. 39 (1857) [42:03]
Jiří Bárta (cello); Hamish Milne (piano)
rec. 14-16 January 2008, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England. DDD
HYPERION CDA67660 [70:55]
Experience Classicsonline

Anton Rubinstein was a highly influential figure in Russian music whose reputation has retreated into the shadows. As well as composing Rubinstein was a virtuoso concert pianist of great repute. His greatest contribution to Russian musical life was not related to performing or composing. He became immensely important in the field of music instruction as founder of the St. Petersburg State Conservatory, the first public school of music in Russia. He served two terms as Principal and was also instrumental in the formation of the Imperial Russian Music Society.

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 Hébraďque 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.2Ocean’, 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 display.  
Michael Cookson


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