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Piano Sonata No 3 in F major, Op 41

'Rubinstein: Complete Piano Sonatas' (CDD22007)
Rubinstein: Complete Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro risoluto e con fuoco
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Movement 2: Allegretto con moto
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Movement 3: Andante
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Movement 4: Allegro vivace
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Piano Sonata No 3 in F major, Op 41
Judging from Rubinstein’s own choice of programmes for the Historical Recitals with which he toured Europe towards the end of his life, the third sonata was his favourite. He included it complete, along with the scherzo of the fourth, and last, sonata and the beautiful variations of the second. Composed around 1853/4 (it is nearly impossible to place Rubinstein’s dates on composition any closer than this), the F major sonata certainly seems conceived for its own composer’s performance. It is characterized by its seriousness and strength as well as the broad scope of the piano writing (within the boundaries of the, by then, conservative tradition of Mendelssohn and Schumann but with more than the occasional anticipation of Brahms).

The two themes of the opening Allegro risoluto e con fuoco are both economically devised, and bear the customary masculine/feminine relationship of the Romantics’ interpretation of Classical sonata form. One phrase of the first theme also does duty for linking material and eventually generates a counter-theme to the return of the second theme. Altogether an imposing piece, this movement also shows a good many strokes of a harmonic personality which, if not unnervingly original, is at least recognizably individual.

The Allegretto con moto is a little masterpiece. Cast in 2/4, in A minor, and marked piano and misterioso, this march-scherzo is full of delicate contrasts between legato and staccato, which continue through the largely half-lit trio section with its succession of almost primitive cadences which might have delighted Mahler.

The intensely romantic Andante at once recalls Schumann and anticipates Brahms. Essentially monothematic (the middle section—moving to E flat minor from the original C major—derives from the third phrase of the theme), the movement is beautifully balanced between expected and unpredictable changes of harmony.

The fourth movement, Allegro vivace, is a rapid tarantella (like the finale of the second sonata) and set, unusually, in F minor. There are two supplementary themes: a big C major section with repeated chords, and a lyrical melody in D flat. Each of these sections commences its own development at once while the tarantella theme is used for counterpoint and modulation. The recapitulation follows immediately with all the material in F minor then F major, with further development and side-stepping of the inevitable coda, which eventually appears, presto, indisputably to confirm F major for the conclusion. (A later edition has an inexplicably revised coda with an interrupted cadence at the end of the peroration. It is not employed here.)

from notes by Leslie Howard İ 1996

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