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8.223456 - RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Major, Op. 25

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 35


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. His vast compositional output, much of it containing music of beauty and originality, still remains relatively unexplored territory. 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.


Rubinstein's Concerto No.1, Op. 25, was written in 1850, then published in 1858. It is dedicated to Alexander Villoing, the composer's principal piano teacher. Actually this work is Rubinstein's fourth attempt at writing a concerto, for two earlier unpublished such works from 1849 are lost, and a third from the same year saw final publication as the Piano Octet, op. 9. Although the First Concerto is the most traditional of the five concertos, a characteristic leonine quality in the piano scoring often emerges. The dramatic opening movement is cast in traditional sonata-form. After an extended orchestral exposition of the movement's primary themes, the piano enters with a dotted-rhythm figuration which immediately introduces the movement's principal theme, now boldly stated by the piano in chords and octaves. A lyrical second theme and a tarantella-like closing theme lead to a traditional developing, then re-stating, of previous material. The movement concludes with a massive coda that is typical virtuosic Rubinstein, yet which dramatically dies away in the last bars. The opening warm lyrical theme of the second movement is presented successively by the orchestra and piano, then is interrupted by a more dramatic and impassioned middle section, and finally is returned by the orchestra while being accompanied by rippling arpeggios on the piano. To act as a transition in mood, Rubinstein now has the orchestra introduce the third movement with a melody that, although not identical, resembles the main theme of the second movement. But the piano impatiently interrupts three times, and finally bursts out with the rollicking main theme of the movement. Heard in several guises and in the company of a number of other themes, it finally is brought back in the "wrong" keys of F and A-flat major. Rubinstein quickly shifts to the home tonality of E major before ending the First Concerto with a huge coda, replete with a stretch of unrelenting virtuoso octaves on the piano which must have daunted many a fledgling virtuoso of the day. The orchestra at the same time is heard in a march-like theme first given earlier in the movement which brings the work to a triumphant conclusion.


Although Rubinstein's Concerto No. 2, Op. 35, was written but a year after the First Concerto, it emerged on an altogether larger scale both structurally and emotionally. Throughout Rubinstein's writing there now is a much greater mastery of balance between the orchestra and piano, with textures and colours being more complex and richer. The scoring for bath orchestra and piano is considerably more technically demanding and imaginative. Although the first movement is in sonata-form, Rubinstein tightens the feeling of structure by the omission of a traditional double stating of the principal themes by the orchestra and then the piano, and has the soloist enter not with the main opening theme, but with transitional material that leads fairly quickly into the rather melancholy second theme. He also adds a cadenza shortly before the end of the first movement which he begins suprisingly enough, yet nonetheless effectively, with a short fugato section. The coda is based on both the principal and closing themes, and has the piano ending the movement with an upward thrust of octaves similar to those used almost a quarter of a century later by Tchaikovsky at the end of his own First Concerto.


The emotional heart of the Second Concerto is to be found in the hauntingly expressive and intense second movement. After an opening section that gives the soloist near improvisatory passages marked "Tempo ad libitum, quasi praeludando," a central section, which shows Rubinstein in his most majestic and noble mood, has a long horn solo supported by the orchestra and mountainous thick chords in the piano scoring. The opening dirge-like section recurs, then all ends darkly with slow piano arpeggios and two final muffled pizzicatos in the orchestra, The third movement immediately lightens up the seriousness of the preceding slow movement with a naïve, dance-like main theme presented by the piano. After several subsidiary themes and a developing of material, Rubinstein tightens the structure drastically by abbreviating the main theme's return, and omitting a re-statement of secondary thematic material. He ends everything with a characteristic virtuosic display of alternating octaves for the pianist.


Joseph Banowetz


Of Joseph Banowetz' present series of Rubinstein recordings, Fanfare music review (U.S.) has termed Banowetz "a technician in the same league as Earl Wild and the late Jorge Bolet, with plenty of sensibility to go along with the dexterity." And Classic CD has written that "Joseph Banowetz is a magnificent pianist, who plays the music for all it's worth," Born in the United States, part of Banowetz' early training was in New York City with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara Schumann. After continuing his studies at Vienna's Hochschule, Banowetz' career was launched upon his graduating with a First Prize in piano performance. He was then sent by the Austrian government on an extended European concert tour. Subsequently he has performed on five continents. Banowetz has recorded with the Czechoslovak State Radio Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the China Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing.


Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)


The East Slovakian town of Košice boasts a long and distinguished musical tradition, as part of a province that once provided Vienna with musicians. The State Philharmonic Orchestra is of relatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductor Bystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macura and Ladislav Slovák, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer. The orchestra has toured widely in Eastern and Western Europe and plays an important part in the Košice Musical Spring and the Košice International Organ Festival.


For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the first compact disc recordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim Raff. Writing on the last of these, one critic praised the orchestra for its competence comparable to that of the major orchestras of Vienna and Prague. The orchestra has contributed many successful volumes to the complete compact disc Johann Strauss II and for Naxos has recorded a varied repertoire.


Alfred Walter


Alfred Waller was born in Southern Bohemia in 1929 of Austrian parents. He studied at the University of Graz and in 1948 was appointed assistant conductor to the Opera of Ravensburg. At the age of 22 he became conductor of the Graz Opera, where he continued until 1965, while serving at Bayreuth as assistant to Hans Knappertsbusch and Karl Böhm. From 1966 until 1969 he was Principal Conductor of the Durban Symphony Orchestra in South Africa, followed by a period of 15 years as General Director of Music in Münster. In Vienna he has worked as guest conductor at the State Opera and in 1986 was given the title of Professor by the Austrian Government. In 1980 he was awarded the Golden Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Society. For Marco Polo, Alfred Walter has recorded more than 15 volumes of the label's Johann Strauss II Edition, works by von Schillings, von Einem, de Bériot, Reinecke and all symphonic works of Furtwängler. He is currently engaged in recording the complete symphonies of Spohr.


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