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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 Asafyev 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 moderate 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 Moderate. 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 Moderate 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 debut 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 moderate 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 Moderate assai piano and orchestra dialogue. A breathless ends the Concertstück in brilliant virtuoso fashion.

Joseph Banowetz

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