About this Recording
8.223382 - RUBINSTEIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4

Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894)
Concerto No. 3 in G Major, Op. 45 • Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 70


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 line of pianist-composers that reached a climax 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 wrote his eight works for piano and orchestra over the last 44 years of his life, with the five concertos dating from 1850–1874. Two earlier unpublished piano concertos, now lost, were written in 1849, and a third “concerto” was revised and published as the Octet, Op. 9. The concertos were enormously popular in the later 19th and early 20th centuries and were not only performed by the composer himself, but by such stellar artists as Hans von Bülow, Ferruccio Busoni, Anna Essipova, and the composer’s own brother, Nikolay. Josef Lhévinne chose to make his United States début in 1919 with the Fifth Concerto, and Josef Hofmann, himself a pupil of Rubinstein’s, continued to perform frequently both the Third and Fourth Concertos well into the 1940’s. The Fourth was at one time in the repertoires of both Rachmaninov and Paderewski. Rubinstein’s Third and Fourth Concertos, like Rubinstein the performer, are grand in scope, and seething with passion, brilliance and poetry. In spite of occasional excesses, the listener is never in doubt of Romantic intensity on a huge scale. Both of these works were undeniable influences on Tchaikovsky’s later written first two piano concertos.

The Third Concerto was composed in 1853–1854, given its first performance by Rubinstein himself with the London Philharmonic in 1857, then finally published a year later. Rubinstein relates that he had a dream in which the piano (in a church!) first asks to be accepted as an equal instrument of the orchestra. It is rebuffed by the other instruments, then rudely thrown out of the church. Leaving the psychiatrists to make what they will of this rather odd “programme”, the Third Concerto is by far the most innovative of the five concertos; for in it are used cyclic and thematic recall procedures on a large scale. It is perhaps not coincidental that the work’s dedication is to Ignaz Moscheles, who was himself an early pioneer in the use of such then revolutionary compositional devices. Although the opening movement can be fitted into a traditional sonata-form mould, Rubinstein intersperses several short solo piano cadenzas near the beginning, and omits both the traditional return to the main theme after the middle development section and the often expected large solo cadenza. Throughout the piano valiantly tries to match and even outdo the orchestra, as in the composer’s own “dream”. The second movement, after two bars of orchestral introduction, opens with the piano stating a melancholy, obsessively pleading melody. A warmly expressive middle section, now fully dominated by the piano, acts as a contrast before the eventual return of the opening section. The third movement is certainly the most innovative from a compositional standpoint. Although cast in loose sonata-form, near the end there are five separate quotations of themes from the earlier movements. The coda makes use as well of modified thematic material from the first two movements. This cyclic recall of themes places Rubinstein’s Third Concerto as an important forerunner of what would soon prove to be one of the most popular concerto forms of the 19th century.

This recording of Rubinstein Piano Concerto No. 3 is a world-première recording of the work in its uncut version.

The Fourth Concerto, with its near ideal balance between the piano and orchestra, has proved the most popular of Rubinstein’s concertos, and is the one on which the composer lavished the most care. First written in 1864, after two further published versions Rubinstein finally published a last revision in 1872. The first movement opens with an orchestral statement of the main theme, then leads into an explosive opening cadenza for the piano. The piano then restates the main theme, now clothed in massive fortissimo chords which in the hands of the composer must have overpowered any orchestral sound of the day. After progressing in fairly traditional sonata-form, Rubinstein adds a massive piano cadenza (which was undoubtedly an obvious pattern to parts of Tchaikovsky’s later first movement cadenza to his concerto in B flat minor), then rounds off the movement by another massive statement of the main theme and a breathless coda. The second movement is primarily in F major, yet starts in D minor as a tonal link to the preceding movement. The principal theme is first given by the piano, then is eventually returned for two further embellished and modified statements. Overall this movement contains some of Rubinstein’s most serene and lovely writing. Although the last movement has a wild, Russian dance-like character, it nonetheless is closer in character to the Krakowiak, which is actually a dance of Polish origin. The opening main theme, first presented by the piano, contains imitations of characteristic shouts and stamping of feet, as would be found in a similar Russian folk dance. The 19th-century Russian composer and Rubinstein’s contemporary, César Cui, felt this movement to be “something like those wild dances that Gluck and Righini wrote … something like the Alla Turca one finds in Mozart”. The breathless dance-like pace, occasionally relaxed with more lyrical passages, continues headlong to a frenzied coda that ends the concerto with an avalanche of virtuosity for the piano.

Joseph Banowetz

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