RUBINSTEIN Don Quixote, Op. 87. Ivan IV, Op. 79 • Igor Golovchin, cond; St SO of Russia • DELOS 2011 (51:25)
This disc is another in Delos’s series of reissues from the catalog of the defunct Russian Disc label, of which I have already reviewed several. In this case, I happen to have the original release, which was reviewed by David Johnson in 18:1, available for a comparison of sound quality. Both versions offer goodRead more sound, but the Delos release, dubbed at a slightly higher level, provides a stronger bass presence and more weight in the center of the soundstage, which characteristics seem to suit the music of Don Quixote very well. They are less of an advantage in the darker, more string-dominated orchestration of Ivan IV, where the Delos sound can sometimes seem too thick and it is possible to prefer the brighter, more spacious Russian Disc presentation. Delos has also appropriated the Russian Disc notes, in which a translator is identified but the author remains anonymous.
There is no point in humiliating Anton Rubinstein by comparing his Don Quixote, completed in 1869, to Richard Strauss’s later treatment of the same subject. Within its more modest proportions and lesser ambitions, the Rubinstein work is not without its pleasures. Rubinstein’s conception, deriving from that of the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, emphasizes the Don’s humanity and altruism rather than his ridiculousness, his desire to aid the unfortunate, even if the misfortunes he perceives are imaginary. Grand, fervent, turbulent, tender, and elegiac passages alternate as the composer skillfully manipulates his thematic material, although sometimes with too much repetition. The orchestration is vivid and colorful. I have nothing with which to compare Igor Golovchin’s performance, since I haven’t heard the only other recording currently available on CD, by George Hanson and the Wuppertal Symphony (MDG). That version was favorably reviewed by Colin Anderson in 27: 2, but the Golovchin rendition seems good, well played and reasonably energetic, although one sometimes wishes for more incisiveness and pointing. The orchestra produces a full, rich, colorful sound.
Tsar Ivan IV, “the Terrible,” was Russia’s most infamous ruler prior to the 20th century. He was three years old when he inherited the throne in 1533 and did not begin actively to rule until about 1549. His rule began fairly constructively by 16th-century standards, and only somewhat later did he evolve into the paranoid monster who imagined treachery in every corner and unleashed a murderous reign of terror against his own subjects. Historians and dramatists have differed in the relative emphasis they place on the constructive and “terrible” aspects of Ivan’s reign. The notes for this recording relate that Rubinstein initially planned an opera on the subject of Ivan but rejected the libretto he was offered as depicting its main character in too unremittingly negative terms. Returning to the subject three years later, in 1869, Rubinstein opted instead for an orchestral piece, subtitled “Musical Picture after L. A. Mey.” Unmentioned in the Delos notes, Mey (or Mei) was the author of the historical dramas on which Rimsky-Korsakov based his operas The Maid of Pskov and The Tsar’s Bride, in which Ivan is treated rather leniently and in fact quite sympathetically in the first of those operas. So too, Rubinstein’s Ivan is not so terrible, the music being only intermittently menacing and even then not so much. It is only near the end of this 23-minute work that anything really sinister happens, and the savage tortures and executions Ivan inflicted on many thousands of men, women, and children are little reflected in this music. If hardly a realistic depiction of its subject, the piece is nonetheless stirring, colorful, and worth hearing, although the composer’s tendency to repeat the same figure too many times is once again in evidence. The work met with approval even from Rubinstein’s customary antagonists among the Mighty Handful, although it does not have a pronounced Russian-nationalist character. Balakirev conducted the premiere, and Borodin praised the piece as free from the influence of Mendelssohn, hitherto a strong element in Rubinstein’s style. Golovchin’s performance is sonorous and well played, but the rival version, by Robert Stankovsky and the Slovak State Philharmonic (originally on Marco Polo but reissued on Naxos), is more urgent, vivid, and strongly accented. Moreover, the closer perspective of the Naxos recording yields greater transparency and allows string detail to register more tellingly.
Historically, Anton Rubinstein was an important figure in the development of Russian music. If he was not a composer of the front rank, his music does offer substantial pleasures. Notwithstanding a few reservations, I can recommend this disc as offering a worthwhile sampling of his orchestral program music in capable and well-recorded performances.
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1870; Russia
Ivan the Terrible, Op. 79by Anton Rubinstein
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1869; Russia
Don Quixote, Op. 87
Ivan IV the Terrible, Op. 79: Ivan the Terrible, Op. 79
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Beautiful Music but Can it Hold Your Attention?April 5, 2013By Wil L W. (Richwood, TX)See All My Reviews"It is good to have these two (character profiles)tone poems on one CD. I like Anton Rubinstein's symphonies and piano concertos, and like that music, this music is beautiful. The sound engineering is superb, the playing is fine, but repeatedly, I find that this music doesn't hold my attention. Maybe I've listened to too much Tchaikovsky. Even with this complaint, I'm glad to have this CD for the other good reasons. Recommended."Report Abuse