Adventures into Russian byways bear unexpected fruit

Reinhold Quartet: Rubinstein

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: Adventures into Russian byways bear unexpected fruit

Musicians: Reinhold Quartet

Works: Rubinstein: String Quartets op.17: no.2 in C minor, no.3 in F major

Catalogue number: CPO 555 544-2

Anton Rubinstein’s music – the once-ubiquitous Melody in F major excepted – seems destined to remain on the outskirts of the repertoire. Concertos and sonatas of fearsome virtuoso challenges contribute to his reputation as a pianist of volcanic charisma, if little capacity for introspection; his prodigious facility as a composer does little to counter this impression.

That said, his quartets and other chamber music show another side of his personality. There’s a Beethovenian drive in, say the opening movement of the F major Quartet, although the melodic material is more akin to Mendelssohn. Both second movements, too, put the listener in mind of Mendelssohn’s fairy-scherzo style, although with a tinge of Romantic darkness that’s closer to Schumann. There’s a Bachian cast to the fugal opening of the C minor Quartet, even if Rubinstein can’t quite sustain interest over its substantial length, resorting in places to note-spinning. The Andante, though, is a real charmer, if conversely somewhat too slight and brief to exert itself fully among the Sturm und Drang of its surroundings. All in all, it would be easy on blind tasting to assume that this music emanated from a Leipzig composer rather than from one somewhat further east.

In these performances, an evident keenness to project, especially from the leader, gives rise to occasional inaccuracies of fingering, rhythm or intonation. Nevertheless, the Reinhold seems to be the only group exploring Rubinstein’s quartets, which makes this coupling – closely but not claustrophobically recorded in a church in Leipzig, appropriately enough – recommendable on its own terms.