About this Recording
8.223190 - RUBINSTEIN: Fantaisie Op. 84 / Concertstuck Op. 113

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)
Fantaisie, op. 84
Concertstück, op. 113

Anton Rubinstein was a towering figure of Russian musical life, and one of the 19th century's most charismatic musical figures. Rivalled at the keyboard only by Liszt, he was near the last in a line of pianist-composers that climaxed with Liszt, Busoni, and Rachmaninov. Like them, Rubinstein's reputation as a composer in his day was more controversial than his reputation as a performer. But unlike them, his vast compositional output, much of it containing music of beauty and originality, still remains relatively unexplored territory. Rubinstein was one of the most prolific composers of the 19th century, with a catalogue of works ranging from several hundred solo piano compositions, to concertos, symphonies, chamber music, operas, choral works, and songs. Much of his piano music was written for his own concert use, and shows a corresponding virtuoso display blended with the melodic lyricism for which his playing was noted. Rubinstein's eight works for piano and orchestra span the last four and a half decades of his creative life. The five concertos were written from 1850-1874, and especially the third, fourth, and fifth were frequently heard well into this century. In addition he wrote three other works for piano and orchestra, the Russian Capriccio, Op. 102, and the two works contained in this album.

The Fantaisie in C Major, Op. 84, was first conceived as a solo piano work in the autumn of 1869, then in 1880 was scored for piano and orchestra. Its monumental proportions and pianistic style prompted the Russian musicologist Boris Asaf'yev to say that "the leonine pianism of Anton Rubinstein (as demonstrated in this work) found a clever and ardent continuator in Rachmaninov." He also felt that influences from the Fantaisie (such as the work's opening orchestra and piano dialogue) are to be found in Tchaikovsky's concertos.

The Fantaisie could nearly as well be termed a concerto, for it clearly falls into four "movements" that are all joined together without break. This idea of a multi-sectioned, one-movement concerto was begun by Weber and Moscheles, then carried further by Liszt through his complex use of thematic transformation. Rubinstein's goes one more step by generating all of its principal themes from the opening sixteen-bar orchestra and piano dialogue. After initially presenting a large virtuosic Allegro moderato section in C major, Rubinstein continues with a Moderato in G major which acts as a Scherzo with Trio. As in the Fantaisie's very opening pages, orchestra and piano divide up the theme, now transformed into a jaunty, brisk scherzo-like character. This time the piano leads the interchange of musical material. The Trio has an earthy Russian-Gypsy flavour, then is followed by a repetition of the opening Moderato. A final abbreviated return of the Trio material leads into what is unquestionably the emotional core of the entire work, a powerful and brooding Adagio (unaccountably marked Moderato Assai in some editions) in E minor. The sombre opening of the Adagio, first given by the piano against hushed cello and bass pizzicatos, eventually leads to an elegiac middle section in E major. After an enormous crescendo in the piano and orchestra, the opening lament then returns, now however transformed into massive loud, rapidly repeated chords on the piano. A final reference to the middle E major section by the solo flute acts as a gesture of emotional reconciliation. The last “movement” is introduced by fanfares in both the orchestra and piano, and the following sections, all related thematically to the very opening pages of the entire Fantaisie, abound in boisterous high spirits and virtuosic display for both the soloist and orchestra. Near the end, the Fantaisie's very opening C major material is played by the orchestra in undisguised form, while accompanied by brilliant chords and runs on the piano. All ends finally in a dazzling shower of keyboard octaves.

The Concertstück in A flat major, Op. 113, was composed in 1889 for Rubinstein's fifty year's jubilee celebration in St. Petersburg which marked his début as a public performer. Rubinstein's work falls into two large sections, each of contrasting mood and to be played without interruption. Following a short orchestral introduction, the piano and orchestra enter into a warm exchange that, with the intimacy of its dialogue, is more in the nature of chamber music. After a Mendelssohn-like lyrical section in E major presented by the piano, the opening exchange between orchestra and keyboard returns, then is concluded with quiet arpeggios on the piano. The music now shifts to a large Con moto moderato section in C minor, which is introduced by a lengthy orchestral tutti, then followed by a brilliant solo piano cadenza. The piano then presents the forceful and dramatic main theme of what becomes a large section in sonata-structure. A large-scaled presentation of themes and their development takes place, until the piano takes up a final reminiscence of the work's very opening Moderato assai piano and orchestra dialogue. A breathless Scherzando coda ends the Concertstück in brilliant virtuoso fashion.

Joseph Banowetz
Born in the United States, part of Banowetz's early training was in New York City with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara Schumann. After continuing his studies at Vienna's Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst, Banowetz's career was launched upon his graduating with a First Prize in piano. He was then sent by the Austrian government on an extended European concert tour. Subsequently he has performed throughout North America, Europe, Russia, and Asia. In 1966 he was awarded the Pan American Prize by the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.

Following his first appearances in the Orient in 1981, Banowetz's tours there have received ever-increasing enthusiastic response. He is the first foreign artist ever to be invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture both to record and to give world première performances of a contemporary Chinese piano concerto (Huang An-lun Piano Concerto, Op. 25b). Banowetz has recorded with the CSR Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the China Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing.

Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was František Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the direction of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.

The orchestra has made many recordings for NAXOS ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten and Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Rubinstein and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Ibert and Khatchaturian.

Oliver Dohnányi
Oliver Dohnányi was born in 1955 and studied the violin, composition and conducting at the Bratislava Conservatory, in the Slovakian capital, pursuing further studies in Prague under Václav Neumann and others, and in Vienna under Otmar Suitner. He graduated in 1980 but had already established himself as artistic director of the Charles University Art Ensemble and the Canticorum lubilo chamber ensemble in Prague. He has won distinction in various competitions, including the Respighi Competition in Italy and international competitions in Budapest and Prague. From 1979 to 1986 Oliver Dohnányi was conductor of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava and has appeared with major orchestras there, in Prague and in Hungary, as well as with the West Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and since 1986 has been principal conductor of the opera of the Slovak National Theatre. In addition to work with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, he has appeared as a guest conductor in the concert hall and in opera in France, Italy, Austria, the USSR, Cuba, East Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland and elsewhere.

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