Start at the beginning of this CD and you won’t be impressed. Anton Rubinstein’s F major Piano Quartet, originally composed as a Quintet for piano and wind in 1855, is big-boned and rather ordinary, just like the playing. Leslie Howard does communicate the brothers Rubinsteins' virtuoso bravura—Anton was as fine a pianist as Nikolay, for whom Tchaikovsky wrote his First Piano Concerto—and the first movement’s quieter centrepiece is arresting. The rest is second-rate imitation Schumann and Brahms.
The C major work of the mid-1860s, however, is as distinctive a Russian chamber piece as the many we’re rediscovering by Arensky, Taneyev and Glazunov. The first movement’s repeated-note themes are as memorable as the quizzical figure that takes off in the scherzo. The mostly sombre slow movement boasts a ravishing major-key transformation, and the lively finale even squeezes in a Russian folk figure shared at one stage by Tchaikovsky. Howard could be a little more crystalline, and the Potton Hall acoustic is dry, but this is an impassioned, convincing first recording.