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CLASSICAL  February 2006

CLASSICAL February 2006

Subject:

Anton Rubinstein Chamber Music

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 3 Feb 2006 02:17:06 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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   Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)
          Chamber Works

Octet in D major, Op. 9 [37:31]
Quintet for Piano and Winds in F major, Op. 55 [38:58]

Thomas Duis, piano
Consortium Classicum
Recorded Van Geest Studio, Heidelberg, Germany, March 2002
Released March 2005
Orfeo 422 041 [76:29]

Anton Rubinstein is best known as the leading pianist of his day and a
tireless educator.  His professional life also revolved around the issue
of "Nationalist vs.  Eclectic" and got rather nasty.  Rubinstein had a
host of enemies in those composers and their followers who were trying
to establish a Nationalist style of Russian classical music.  At the
same time, Rubinstein was pushing an eclectic style that borrowed greatly
from the Germanic experience.  He was nicknamed "The Russian Brahms", a
term that might sound good from a distance but was a supreme insult for
Rubinstein.

The Octet is scored for flute, clarinet, french horn, violin, viola,
cello, double bass, and piano.  It's likely a student work, and it shows.
Rubinstein has wonderful initial ideas/themes that he essentially does
little with.  Instead, he ends up being extremely repetitive, engaging
in a strong dose of note-spinning.  But I have to say that those initial
themes are quite compelling.  The 1st Movement Allegro non troppo begins
with a hell-fire theme that knocked me out of my chair.  The 2nd Movement
Vivace has an even better start with a quick-silver piano solo that made
my body move in unfamiliar patterns.  The slow 3rd Movement's first theme
is gorgeous and loving; this time around, Rubinstein also offers an
effective second theme highlighted by the pulsating menace of the double
bass.  In the 4th Movement Allegro moderato, the spit-fire first theme
reflects high times and a great absorption of energy.

When I listen to wonderful music that goes nowhere, I immediately think
of the miniature as the preferred form.  As miniatures, each of the four
movements would be fantastic to listen to - state the argument in a
concise manner, then move on to the next one.  Alas, we have almost 40
minutes to slog through, and my patience has its limits (30 minutes).
Overall, the Octet certainly has appeal, but the excessive length is
debilitating.  Almost forgot - the piano dominates the other instruments,
a condition that considerably reduces the potential for a wide variety
of colours.

The Piano Quintet is an improvement over the Octet and clearly reveals
a more mature and expert composer.  For the combination of french horn,
clarinet, bassoon, flute and piano, Rubinstein gives each instrument a
significant role; this alone creates a more varied and interesting palette
that is sorely lacking in the Octet.  Still, thematic development
occasionally gets stalled in a wasteland of repetition.  Further, the
basic melodies are not as enjoyable as in the Octet, the 3rd Movement
Andante con moto being especially mediocre in melodic content.

Don's Conclusions: The Consortium Classicum and Thomas Duis deliver
superb performances, but are up against two compositions that have few
compelling traits.  At Naxos prices, I would give the disc a mild
recommendation.  However, the music simply isn't worth the premium price
of an Orfeo recording.  Recommended only to those who must have every
chamber work found along the side roads of the Romantic era.  As for
better alternatives, one relatively obscure composer who immediately
comes to mind is Sergei Taneyev who wrote outstanding chamber works
including his String Trios, String Quartets, Piano Trio, Piano Quartet,
and Piano Quintet.  Go directly to Taneyev and give Rubinstein a pass.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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