Morgan Goff / Leslie Howard / Rita Manning / Justin Pearson

Rubinstein: Piano Quartets

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Russian composer Anton Rubinstein, the real progenitor of the cosmopolitan strain in Russian music that led to Tchaikovsky and beyond, wrote a good deal of chamber music that followed the Germanic models he admired. Much of it fell into disuse during the last modernist-obsessed age, but some of it is a lot of fun, with sweeping piano parts presumably written for Rubinstein himself, the second-greatest pianist of his time behind Liszt. Thus new recordings have begun to appear. This one by a quartet of British players led by Leslie Howard, who has specialized in neglected Romantic repertory, contains a pair of world-premiere recordings; the Piano Quartet in F minor, Op. 55bis, has been recorded in an alternate version for piano and winds, while the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 66, a fairly well-known work in its time, has never been recorded at all. The C minor quartet, utilizing the full range of the piano and the strings and concluding with a big finale based on Beethoven's short-short-short-long motif, is actually the stronger of the two; the F minor work is well wrought but is a bit like Mendelssohn without the good tunes. Too, there is a certain over-decorous quality to the performances; an audience paying to see Rubinstein in his own time would have demanded a bit more flair. On balance, the album brings to light some worthwhile music from the never-overabundant Russian chamber music repertory, nicely recorded by Hyperion. The C minor work could make a rousing and fresh concert finale for any chamber group.

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