Rubinstein: Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Rubinstein
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Jiri Barta (cello), Hamish Milne (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67660

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It was Brahms who complained that Rubinstein’s extraordinary facility prevented him from taking enough trouble over his compositions. He was prolific, though only a fraction of his 200 works are known, and these two lavishly inventive and free-flowing cello sonatas reveal how sorely underestimated his legacy has been. They are more than equal to the cello sonatas of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninov.

Certainly, the Second, at a whopping 42 minutes, is over-ambitious in scale for the quality of its material, and has its longueurs, but the shorter Sonata No. 1 in D major is well-nigh irresistible, with memorable melodies and a heroic piano part sweeping all before it.

In Jirí Bárta’s hands it speaks to us across the centuries with a radiant ardour. Written when Rubinstein was in his early 20s, it is lit with that youthful ebullience found in Mendelssohn’s early chamber music.

Isserlis and Hough recorded the First Sonata on their Forgotten Romance album (RCA), very successfully too, though there is something almost frantic about their performance.

Tempos are faster, driven by a feverish excitement which puts the accent on virtuosity but can seem peremptory beside Bárta and Milne, whose more spacious and warmly rhapsodic approach sounds entirely idiomatic, and is captured on an expertly balanced recording.

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It’s just a shame that, despite the tonal beauty displayed by both players, the overloaded Second Sonata results in some laboured passagework. Helen Wallace