About this Recording
8.220451 - RUBINSTEIN: Feramors / The Demon / Nero

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894)
The Demon

"Liszt played the piano like an eagle, Rubinstein like a lion," Paderewski noted in his memoirs, and Alexander Glazunov's daughter told this writer that after attending one of Rubinstein's recitals, Glazunov "could not touch the piano for three days."

Anton Rubinstein's compositions, unfortunately, seldom achieved a commensurate appreciation. The victim of much anti-Semitic prejudice, he endured Cui's assertion that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the first Russian symphony, when he himself had actually written for that genre prior to the première of Rimsky-Korsakov's First in 1865. Many critics have denigrated Rubinstein, Gerald Abraham descending to sarcasm, in Slavonic and Russian Music, by stating that since the original version of the Ocean Symphony was in four movements (as opposed to the final version's seven), it is only "four-sevenths as bad as the final one." Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, however, offers an opposing view of Anton Rubinstein's worth as a composer. "Can I compare myself to him? He is the greatest pianist of our time. In Rubinstein virtuosity is united with a great talent for composition, and the first carries the second. I shall never, in my life, achieve a tenth of what Rubinstein has achieved, because he begins by being the greatest virtuoso."

Anton Rubinstein was born on 11th November, 1829 in the village of Berdichev, his entire family being baptized Christians in 1831. As a result of this decision, his parents avoided double taxes and were able to obtain passports and travel to Moscow in 1834, where Grigor Rubinstein came to own a pencil-factory. His mother, Karleria, was born in the German-speaking province of Silesia and began teaching her son the piano when he was five. At six, he was composing songs, and when he was eight, his mother contacted the noted teacher Alexander Villoing. Born in Russia of French parents, Villoing was so impressed with the boy's ability that he refused to charge for the challenge of teaching a student of such promise. Under his guidance, his pupil made a successful performing début at Petrovsky Park in 1839 at the age of nine.

Rubinstein toured Europe with Villoing the following year, playing for Liszt, Chopin and Meyerbeer in Paris. Impressed, Liszt advised him to study counterpoint in Germany. He toured for several more years, however, playing for the Tsar, with his younger brother Nikolay, upon his return to Russia. In 1844, with his mother and his brother Nikolay, he travelled to Berlin where they met Felix Mendelssohn who recommended that Anton study counterpoint with Siegfried Dehn. The death of his father two years later caused Kaleria and Nicholay to return to Moscow.

Rubinstein remained in Germany, composing as well as performing until the European revolution of 1848 forced his return to Russia late that year. He was fortunate in securing a patron in the Grand Duchess Helena Pavlovna and accepted her offer of a position as Master of Music at the Michael Palace. He produced his first opera Dmitri Donskoy and gave first performances of other works such as Kammenoi Ostrov, the Third Piano Concerto, the Symphony in F Major, and the operas The Siberian Hunters and Thomas the Fool with notable success.

In 1854-6 Rubinstein toured Europe, visited Liszt at Weimar where his Triumphal Overture, Op. 43 was performed, played his piano concerti and heard his Ocean Symphony (Second) in Berlin in 1855. He returned to Moscow for the new Tsar's coronation in 1856, then continued his concerts in Europe. His opera Paradise Lost was staged by Liszt at Weimar in 1858, with performances of his Second and Third Symphonies in Moscow. During this year he founded the Russian Music Society in St. Petersburg, a first attempt at treating musicianship professionally in Russia. This led to the establishment of the Russian Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg in 1862 with Rubinstein as its first director. The Conservatory developed professional Russian musicians, Tchaikovsky among its first students, instead of relying on foreign talent or training.

Anti-Semitism was apparent even from Mily Balakirev, spokesman for The Mighty Handful and founder of the rival Free School of Music, who ridiculed Rubinstein's Conservatory as a "Jewish Musical Association." Rubinstein resigned the Directorship in 1867 over a controversy involving the granting of diplomas to students of influential families, despite the lack of requisite ability. Resuming his concert tours, he also composed the D minor Piano Concerto, Don Quixote (Symphonic Poem), and the opera Feramors, one of his favourite works. During 1871-2, he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and began work on his opera The Demon, and the following season he enjoyed an enormously successful tour to the United States.

In 1875, The Demon had the greatest success of any of Rubinstein operas, both in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Other compositions included the E flat Piano Concerto, the Fantasia for Two Pianos, and the opera Nero. After a concert tour of England, he was made a Hereditary Nobleman by the Tsar, and in 1883 he was awarded the Cross of St. Vladimir for his contribution to musical education in Russia. He also gained a new student named Alexander Glazunov, whose talent at the piano greatly impressed him.

After a series of Historical Concerts in Europe during 1885-7, Anton Rubinstein returned to Russia to be further honoured by the Tsar and to resume directorship of the Conservatory. Notable graduates of this period were Alexander Glazunov and Anatol Liadov, ably taught by Rimsky-Korsakov and Anton Arensky. In 1889 Rubinstein had a Jubilee Concert to celebrate his fifty years as a concert pianist, and in 1891 he resigned his Conservatory post to spend more time with his family. In 1893-4 he returned to Europe for his last concert tour. His opera Christus was staged in Stuttgart in 1894, and he then returned to Russia. He was working on a final opera, Cain, at his Peterhof Villa, when he died of heart failure on November 11, 1894.

Feramors is an opera in two acts by Anton Rubinstein. Written by Julius Rodenberg, the libretto is based on Lalla Rookh by Thomas Moore and was completed in 1862. The première was at the Hoftheater, Dresden, on 24th February, 1863. A work of oriental atmosphere, it tells the tale of Lalla Rookh, Princess of Hindustan, who is betrothed to the King of Bokhara. Travelling to his kingdom for the royal marriage, she falls in love with Feramors, a young Kashmiri singer. Heartbroken at having to leave him, her grief melts into joy when he is revealed as the King himself. The ballets in Feramors include the ‘Dance of the Bayadèves’ in Act I and the Lamplight Dance of the Bride of Kashmir in Act II, as well as a final Wedding Dance.

The Demon is a fantastic opera in Three Acts, with libretto by Pavel Viskovatov, based on the 1841 poem by Lermontov. Completed in 1871, the work was given its première on 25th January, 1875 at the Imperial Theatre, St. Petersburg, and was so successful that Rubinstein achieved the stature of a national composer. This work became so popular that during the next nine years it was presented more than a hundred times in that house alone. On 21st June, 1881, it became the first Russian opera to be performed in England.

Accompanied by evil spirits, the Demon soars through a storm, alighting on the peak of Kazbec to contemplate the world below. Bitterly unhappy and regretting his misspent youth, he yearns for a woman's love when he notices Tamara, dancing with friends, on the eve of her marriage. Desiring her, the Demon has Prince Sinodal, her betrothed, murdered by Tartars. During the Second Act, guests and family are awaiting the appearance of bride and bridegroom when the ballet music is performed. The dancing is interrupted by news of Sinodal's death. Tamara shuts herself in a convent, but the Demon continues to pursue her. Sinodal, transformed into an angel, appears, with celestial voices summoning Tamara to Paradise. The Demon grows more ardent. Freeing herself from his embrace, Tamara dies, securing redemption. His last hope destroyed, the Demon becomes overwhelmed by rage and despair. Renewing his curses against man and God, he vanishes amidst the lightning and thunder of a growing storm.

A Grand Opera in Four Acts with libretto by J. Barber, Nero was first performed in Hamburg in 1875. Set in ancient Rome, it tells the story of Vindex, a descendent of the Kings of Aquitania, who loves Kreeza. Nero also desires her and declares his intention to marry her. His mother opposes the union, however. Frustrated, the Emperor has Rome set on fire and accuses the Christians of the deed. In the resultant hysteria Kreeza, a Christian, is killed, and Vindex organizes an army to avenge her death. Nero flees Rome, but realizing that he cannot escape retribution, asks the poet Sakus to kill him.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include Vaclav Talich (1949-1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pešek. Zdenék Košler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorák.

During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, including visits to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.

Michael Halász
Born in Hungary in 1938, Michael Halász began his professional career as principal bassoonist in the Philharmonia Hungarica, a position he occupied for eight years, before studying conducting in Essen. His first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich Gärtnerplatz Theater, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta productions. In 1975 he moved to Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under Christoph von Dohnányi, working with the most distinguished singers and conducting the most important works of the operatic repertoire. Engagements as a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnányi took him to the Staatsoper in Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister.

In 1978 Michael Halász was appointed General Musical Director at the opera-house in Hagen, and there has further developed his experience of the repertoire. For the Marco Polo label, Michael Halász has recorded works by Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein, Schreker and Miaskovsky and for Naxos works by Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Beethoven.

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