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Cello Sonata No 1 in D major, Op 18

'Rubinstein: Cello Sonatas' (CDA67660)
Rubinstein: Cello Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67660 
Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Moderato assai
Movement 3: Moderato

Cello Sonata No 1 in D major, Op 18
Rubinstein was only in his early twenties when he composed the Cello Sonata No 1 in D major, Op 18, in 1852, but it is a fairly substantial work which not unnaturally requires a pianist of heroic stature as well as a first-rate cellist. If Rubinstein’s idiom is more reminiscent of Mendelssohn than Russian folk-melody, he still contrives to sound a personal note with touches of Slavic ardour. The first movement is laid out on a large scale, with three principal themes: an elegantly, rather plaintively lyrical first subject announced by the cello and distinguished by a prominent dotted rhythm, a more urgent Animato transition theme, and a broad, singing second subject first heard quietly on the cello against chorale-like piano chords. (When the piano takes it up the cello has a pizzicato accompaniment.) All three elements are pressed into service in a passionate and eventful development that culminates in a kind of solo cadenza for the cello. This spills over into the recapitulation, where the first subject reappears in octaves on the piano against the cello’s figurations. The recapitulation carries on into a coda that continues the process of development, the piano’s chords sounding against a sustained low cello trill before the Presto concluding bars.

The sonata has only three movements, and the central one, marked Moderato assai, was often played on its own in the nineteenth century; it is a kind of intermezzo, and one can see why it might have become a favourite morceau. The first section is in a lilting barcarolle rhythm which shows off Rubinstein’s flair for elegant melody; the second (Con moto moderato) is a shimmering, rippling affair involving a kind of firefly flight of cello tremolandi, harped chords and undulating left-hand figuration in the piano. In the final section these two elements are skilfully alternated—in an evocation perhaps of the Venetian lagoons.

Although the finale is marked merely Moderato, it is a real virtuoso piece, especially for the pianist, who has an almost ceaseless torrent of triplet figurations to sustain. Their uneasy chromatic oscillations are taken up into the cello’s urgent first theme and are equally present in the second, shared between both instruments. A broader, more grandiose third theme also makes its presence felt in no uncertain terms, but for much of its length this finale is a kind of ‘wild ride’ that sweeps all before it up to the thrilling bravura finish, where the pace intensifies and the third theme returns to crown the work in an outburst of rhetorical fervour.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009

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Details for CDA67660 track 1
Allegro moderato
Recording date
16 January 2008
Recording venue
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Rubinstein: Cello Sonatas (CDA67660)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: April 2009
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