Rubinstein: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 94; Caprice russe,Op. 102

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COMPOSERS: Rubinstein
LABELS: Marco Polo
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 94; Caprice russe,Op. 102
PERFORMER: Slovak RSO/Robert Stankovsky
CATALOGUE NO: 8.223489 DDD
Although Rubinstein probably did more than anyone else to found the institutions of musical education in Russia, he was largely reviled by the emergent Slavophile (and often anti-Semitic) musical establishment for being too German. Rimsky-Korsakov quipped that if one heard a piece of music that sounded like bad Beethoven or poorly orchestrated Mendelssohn, containing nothing that was either improper or daring, one could be sure that work was by Rubinstein. He may have had a point – listening to these two discs, one feels oneself to be in the presence of a brilliant but elusive pasticheur rather than someone with a distinctive musical identity. His Symphony No. 3, completed in 1855, is a competent exercise in Mendelssohnian Romanticism, lyrically inoffensive but never quite taking off, though it is interesting for the ways it anticipates Tchaikovsky’s orchestral writing.

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More impressive is the showy 1874 Piano Concerto which, though formally conservative, is a sprawling and often exuberant vehicle for some bravura pianism, making huge technical demands on the soloist. Joseph Banowetz rises to the challenge and does not stint the extravagant gestures, but he is rather let down by an orchestral accompaniment that is lacking in clarity and a recording that is thin-sounding. William Humphreys-Jones