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Piano Sonata No 4 in A minor, Op 100

'Rubinstein: Complete Piano Sonatas' (CDD22007)
Rubinstein: Complete Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Moderato con moto
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Movement 2: Allegro vivace
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Movement 3: Andante
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Movement 4: Allegro assai
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Piano Sonata No 4 in A minor, Op 100
In the more than a quarter of a century which separates the third from the fourth of the Rubinstein sonatas (the fourth appeared in 1880) lie only two of his major works for piano—the Fantasy, Opus 77, and the Theme and Variations, Opus 88, both of which are larger than any of the earlier sonatas and show a very different weight of thought from the dozens of character pieces which otherwise fill the Rubinstein piano œuvre. The fourth sonata turns out to be in this grand mould, on a much broader scale than the others, and is almost leisurely in its expansiveness.

There are two parts to the first theme of the Moderato con moto: a strong rhythmic motif marked appassionato e con espressione and a gentler rising theme accompanied by triplet chords. An animated transition passage leads to the second group of themes: a lyrical melody which is immediately extended and developed, and a codetta which contains two more melodic ideas, the second of which introduces the development after the exposition is repeated. All the themes other than the lyrical second subject play a part in the development, and the opening theme is treated fugally. The regular recapitulation is rounded off with a short coda.

The scherzo is a very powerful affair whose skittish moments are generally interrupted by gruff cadences on the off beats, and there is some occasional mildly experimental dissonance. The calmer trio section curiously calls to mind the Grieg of the Lyric Pieces, with its two-bar phrases and delicate syncopations.

The slow movement is very generous with melody—the exposition contains seven distinct themes, three in the home key of F major before a more animated theme in 5/8 introduces D flat. A modulatory theme leads to the second subject and codetta in C major. Development is confined to the first of the themes, but the recapitulation introduces many variations in texture and tonality. A second development turns out to be a long valediction on the first subject group.

The finale is a very busy moto perpetuo with a theme appearing in octaves in the bass before it undergoes the first of many transformations. A brief attempt at a lyrical second theme is doomed by the insistent return of the first for development, but a more expressive section intervenes before the recapitulation, in which the second subject finally takes wing before precipitating headlong into the conclusion.

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996

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