The neglect of Rubinstein's symphonies and the general view that this is
deserved did not seem very encouraging when this CD arrived for review.
There is only one other recording and this current disc is a reissue from
Marco Polo and 26 years old; the orchestra too is not regarded as top rank.
The criticism of this work is that Rubinstein was looking back to the mid
nineteenth century German composers rather than forward like Tchaikovsky.
Without suggesting that this is an unfairly discarded masterpiece it is an
agreeable piece and I'm surprised it hasn't been taken up by a major
conductor and orchestra.
The first movement has a certain nod towards Mussorgsky's Boris
but I felt it also sounded a bit like a Russian Dvorak. The
second movement Allegro non troppo
which seems to owe something to
Schumann starts off enthusiastically and is quite exciting but one has to
admit there is something missing to make it top class. The third movement
perhaps exemplifies the ultimate problem with Rubinstein. The
begins with a stirring melody with a certain hymn-like
quality but whereas Tchaikovsky in his Fifth Symphony
real belter of emotion in the second movement Rubinstein simply seems to run
out of ideas. It was here that I felt a better orchestra might make more of
the music but there remains a suspicion that there are fundamental flaws in
the composition and orchestration. The finale Allegro vivace
threatens to raise a storm but again drifts at times. The ending is really
not impressive enough to leave a strong impact. That having been said I must
say that it was good to hear this piece and notwithstanding certain minor
shortcomings the performance and recording are more than adequate and on
occasion more than this.
The surprise with Rubinstein's music on this disc is its anonymous nature
and a failure to be full-blooded. Russian music, at least in my experience
stirs the listener's emotions; with the best will in the world this is not
the case here. The overture Dmitry Donskoy
is to Rubinstein's first
opera premiered in 1852 and also known as The Battle of Kulikovo
the opera itself is lost. Sadly despite some stirring themes this doesn't
rise above the derivative and seems overlong for its ideas. Faust
was originally written as a movement of a symphony but this movement is all
that was written. The music certainly conveys Goethe's work and has some
well developed ideas. The problem is that it sounds like a torso, devoid of
its other movements. The playing of the orchestra is committed which is
commendable given the obscurity of the music.
At upper bargain price this disc may well be a good introduction to
Rubinstein. It has to be said that it's not top-drawer music or
performance but certainly of interest.
David R Dunsmore
Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey