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Anton Rubinstein: Moses

Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra/Michail Jurowski (Warner)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Anton Rubinstein Moses
Stanisław Kuflyuk, Torsten Kerl, Evelina Dobračeva, Małgorzata Walewska; Artos Children’s Choir; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir; Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra/Michail Jurowski
Warner 9029558343   198:11 mins (3 discs)

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Celebrated for founding the St Petersburg Conservatory and teaching Tchaikovsky composition, Anton Rubinstein’s own work has rather slipped through the cracks of music history. Yet this is a man who wrote symphonies, piano concertos and no fewer than 20 operas. Moses was composed between 1884 and 1891 to a German libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal; and it seems unlikely that it was ever performed in its entirety until October 2017 in Warsaw.

The present recording is taken from that performance and in every respect it is a labour of great love by the Russian conductor Michail Jurowski, who rescued the work from the archives. Yet commitment isn’t always enough. Moses, which begins with the patriarch’s birth in Egypt and ends with his death as the Jewish people are about to enter the Promised Land can’t quite decide whether it’s an opera or an oratorio. Rubinstein greatly admired Mendelssohn’s oratorios and those of Handel too: you can hear both composers throughout the score, and Brahms, particularly in the choral writing. Sometimes you feel the plot is lost for another opportunity to show a mastery of fugue! The musical inspiration sometimes flags and by the end the libretto seems to have abandoned any pretence at drama with too much telling and not enough showing. The music undoubtedly drives the action forward but it reveals little about the characters. However, the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir are magnificent and the baritone Stanisław Kuflyuk is a tireless Moses. One can only regret that his mother Johebet, sung by a ripe mezzo-soprano Małgorzata Walewska. disappears from the story so early. Pharaoh’s daughter – the soprano Evelina Dobračeva – also makes a regrettably early exit. And who would have thought that the Almighty was a tenor? For all its imperfections this is an important recording.

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Christopher Cook