Edlian Piano Trio

Anton Rubinstein: The 5 Piano Trios

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Anton Rubinstein is an important figure in the history of Russian music, as a musician, composer, and, most importantly, a teacher. However, his compositions are not well-known, especially outside of Russia. This two-disc recording by the Edlian Piano Trio is the first to bring together all five of Rubinstein's piano trios, presented in chronological order. Listening to the first three trios gives some clues as to why Rubinstein's reputation as a composer isn't as great as his renown as a performer and pedagogue. The writing isn't very engaging: no interesting use of harmony or countermelody, not much beyond melody and accompaniment traded off between the instruments, although the humors are generally good-natured and themes sometimes song-like. Trio No. 3 does have some bright spots in the Scherzo, where switches between rhythms and harmonies are similar to devices used by Dvorák. The general lackluster style, however, is not aided by the recording's sound and by slack string playing and ensemble work. The engineering picks up the full range of all the instruments' registers, but it tends to favor the strings, making it hard to discern any real ensemble voicing, phrasing, and cohesion. What's worse is that it brings the excessive use of vibrato; lack of sharp, firm bowing; and intonation issues (all particularly present in the violin) to the fore. The Trio No. 4 is the most attractive of all the trios, using a wider variety of rhythmic ideas, textures, and sounds. There is a more obvious Russian flavor to the themes than in the earlier trios, and the second movement, Moderato con moto, is almost manic. The Edlian musicians' enthusiasm, though, really seems to outweigh and overwhelm their sense of good technique here and in the opening of Trio No. 5, another more musically mature trio compared to the early ones. The recording is a commendable effort to revive the reputation of Rubinstein the composer, but unfortunately falls short of the mark performance-wise.

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