Movement 1: Allegro con moto
Movement 2: Andante: Tema – Variations 1-4
Movement 3: Vivace
Unlike the other sonatas, the second begins with a rather tentative version of the main theme and it is only after subsidiary material, derived from rapidly arpeggiated chords, that the melody appears in full strength. Also a reversal of the conventional role is the fanfare-like second subject. The development is straightforward enough, with excursions into E flat minor and A flat minor, then A major and E major before an enharmonic modulation almost violently restores the home key.
The theme and variations, which Rubinstein often played separately, form a graceful intermezzo, simple and lyrical until the Schumannesque third variation alters the mood. After the mild solemnity imposed by the minor key of the fourth variation, a short coda restores the tranquillity of the beginning.
The finale is another movement in sonata form, characterized by a favourite Rubinstein device of constant very rapid triplets. The excellent second subject is hurried aside and the exposition is repeated. The development relies rather heavily on sequential repetition of phrases from both main themes, but the return is handled very deftly, with almost orchestral colouring. Mendelssohn is clearly the model for the nonetheless effective coda.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996