Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Moderato assai
Movement 3: Moderato
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