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“Anton Rubinstein – Music for Piano Four Hands - Volume 1”
Anton Rubinstein: Sonata, Opus 89 – Three Characteristic Pieces, Opus 9 – Six Characteristic Pieces, Opus 50

Sara Bartolucci and Rodolfo Alessandrini (Piano) – Duo Pianistico di Firenze
Recording: Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence, Italy (June 2013) – 71’ 54
Brilliant Classics # 95016 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English (Italian note and biography available at www.brilliantclassics.com)

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), that highly impetuous composer whose prolific musical equations were meted out for symphony, opera, chamber orchestra and piano, was regarded for his outpourings of quantity versus quality. Even Rubinstein’s maxim painted a candid self-portrait: “... Absolute perfectionism is not a possibility of human endeavor, and the imperfect can contain much that is wonderful and worthy of attention.” Compositions for four hands is, indeed, a small fraction of his œuvre with a heavily Westernized stance that possesses little regard for Russian musical vernacular. Inside Music for Piano Four Hands the same holds true: some pieces are not fully elaborated and in sections Rubinstein displays incessant note-spinning, but Rubinstein’s pitfalls shouldn’t deter the listener from exploring this beautiful music. The Florence Piano Duo does great justice to Anton Rubinstein’s compositions by expressing with erudite freshness, candidness and thoughtful conservativeness.

Since much of his life was spent in Western Europe, Rubinstein’s influences are obvious. The “Moderato con moto” found in the Sonata, Opus 89 brings a dollop of Frédéric Chopin’s sentimental sequences to the score. The difficult “Scherzo” section breathes Mendelssohnian savoir faire with its relentless staccato hammering arpeggios on the front side and the back side of the movement. This is an amazing selection since it conjures impressions of a “case study” for aspiring pianists with its unparalleled technical difficulties.

Composed at the youthful age of 18, Rubinstein’s Three Characteristic Pieces are rudimentary and underdeveloped, yet they demonstrate the Russian’s potential. Unfettered from full-blown complexity, the harmonics are especially rich in the second movement’s “Nocturne sur l’eau” (“Nocturne on the water”) while the conclusive “La Cataracte” (“The Cataract”) rolls in bass note fluidity to depict the unyielding rush of water.

The Six Characteristic Pieces was composed in a four year time period, 10 years after his adolescent compositions. Here, Rubinstein maps more tenured seasoning. The Florence Piano Duo tackles the flits of differing modes and rhythms with unabashed encapsulation. Opening to a soothing “Nocturne”, we turn our ear to the subsequent “Scherzo” that contains dizzying Lisztian characteristics. Similar in scope to the Sonata’s “Scherzo”, this has to be one of the most electrifying displays of musical craftsmanship by Bartolucci and Alessandrini.

Opus 50 evenly traverses from fast to slow, evidenced by the ensuing melancholic “Barcarolle” that’s proceeded with a very capricious “Capriccio” that Bartolucci and Alessandrini pound out with Chopin liveliness. Typically associated with dynamics of piano and attenuated largo, Rubinstein’s “Berceuse” has a pocketed grandiose moment in the middle section that nicely crescendos which bears the labeling, “Moderato assai – Animato.” Flipping the charts, the CD ends in a lilting “March” with its undeterred strength of regimented musical formation. Bright and effusive, this closing remark adds starchy crispness.

Partnered for over 20 years, Sara Bartolucci and Rodolfo Alessandrini are accredited with many awards and accolades. The liner notes, written by the two, are concise and informative. Their first volume of Anton Rubinstein’s four hands works is a grand excursion.

Christie Grimstad




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