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Piano Sonata No 1 in E minor, Op 12

'Rubinstein: Complete Piano Sonatas' (CDD22007)
Rubinstein: Complete Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro appassionato
Track 1 on CDD22007 CD1 [6'43] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 2: Andante largamente
Track 2 on CDD22007 CD1 [6'29] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 3: Moderato
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Movement 4: Moderato con fuoco
Track 4 on CDD22007 CD1 [7'11] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)

Piano Sonata No 1 in E minor, Op 12
The first important fact about this work is simply that it is probably the earliest piano sonata to be composed by a Russian. It dates from around 1847/8 and, as the product of a teenager who must have been quite a pianist already, it is beyond criticism. It has a youthful naivety about it, with echoes of Mendelssohn as well as a certain brashness which Tchaikovsky was to show in his early keyboard works. Typically, Rubinstein uses no Russian folk material, but some pages of this sonata betray an obviously Russian origin. The first movement, Allegro appassionato, is in a brisk 2/4 and the opening builds through a series of grand gestures into a strong repetition of the first theme in triplet octaves. The tremolos and arpeggios which bind the movement together lead to the second subject and testify to Rubinstein’s easy capacity for fluent melody. The development moves to the remote key of F sharp major where the constantly moving accompaniment stops—as it will again when the second subject returns in the recapitulation. The movement ends quietly and seriously after a further reference to the opening phrase.

The Andante largamente is a simple tripartite conception which launches immediately into its long principal melody in C major. The placid mood becomes gradually ruffled during the central section in A minor, where dotted rhythms are contrasted with pulsating triplets. A delicate modulation (German augmented sixth to tonic 6/4, for those who care about such things) ushers in the principal theme over a florid accompaniment, and the last few bars recall the middle section.

The scherzo, Moderato, is a perky piece in A minor with a tastefully ornamented melody which makes much of the alternative possibilities between G sharp and G natural. The second section, which is repeated, spends some time in C major before returning to A minor and a fortissimo change of gear from 3/8 to four bars of 2/8—something which would have delighted Schumann. The little trio in A major subjects its winsome tune to some quite harmless contrapuntal imitation.

The finale, Moderato con fuoco, is the strongest movement. After a preliminary statement of the theme, a grand Russian outburst reintroduces it in octaves with rushing triplet accompaniment. These rhythms dominate the movement, despite the first appearance of the lyrical second subject—an excellent melody by any standards. The entire development section is given over to a fugue on the first theme, but although young Anton Grigoryevich flexes his academic muscles once or twice the fugal manner actually assists the enormous forward propulsion of the movement. When the second theme returns, the irrepressible rhythm of the fugue continues in the bass, to be displaced only by the grandest possible repeat of this theme, with repeated chords and rich arpeggios, leading (through a harmonic progression that would become Tchaikovsky’s favourite method of heralding a climax) to an enthusiastic conclusion.

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996

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