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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Symphony No 5 in G minor, Op.107 (1880) [39.30]
Dmitry Donskoy Overture (1850) [12.04]
Faust, Op.68 (1864) [19.56]
George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra/Horia Andreescu
rec. Bucharest, Romania, July 1988
NAXOS 8.557005 [71.30]

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 Godunov 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 Andante begins with a stirring melody with a certain hymn-like quality but whereas Tchaikovsky in his Fifth Symphony produces a 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