Rubinstein: Piano Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Rubinstein
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Rubinstein: Piano Quartets
WORKS: Piano Quartet in F, Op. 55; Piano Quartet in C, Op. 66
PERFORMER: Leslie Howard (piano), Rita Manning (violin), Morgan Goff (viola), Justin Pearson (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68018

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Start at the beginning of this CD and you won’t be impressed. Anton Rubinstein’s F major Piano Quartet, originally composed as a Quintet for piano and wind in 1855, is big-boned and rather ordinary, just like the playing. Leslie Howard does communicate the brothers Rubinstein’s virtuoso bravura – Anton was as fine a pianist as Nikolay, for whom Tchaikovsky wrote his First Piano Concerto – and the first movement’s quieter centerpiece is arresting. The rest is second-rate imitation Schumann and Brahms.

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The C major work of the mid-1860s, however, is as distinctive a Russian chamber piece as the many we’re rediscovering by Arensky, Taneyev and Glazunov. The first movement’s repeated-note themes are as memorable as the quizzical figure that takes off in the scherzo. The mostly sombre slow movement boasts a ravishing major-key transformation, and the lively finale even squeezes in a Russian folk figure shared at one stage by Tchaikovsky. Howard could be a little more crystalline, and the Potton Hall acoustic is dry, but this is an impassioned, convincing first recording. David Nice