Anton Rubinstein was a child prodigy and virtuoso pianist, undertaking his first concert tour of Europe when he was just 11 years old. His performances led to encounters with Liszt and Chopin. His skill was compared to other well-known 19th-century contemporaries such as Sigismond Thalberg.
Rubinstein's impact on Russian music history is undeniable. He founded Russia's first conservatory in St Petersburg in 1862. His standing as a composer of stature is, however, more questionable. His violin sonatas were written over a time span of twenty years but to be honest they are long-winded and really tax your patience. There are some attractive romantic melodies and moments of beauty to be heard along the way but there are also some very long passages where the structure virtually collapses and the listener’s attention wanders. The style is very much inspired by Mendelssohn and Schumann but all three sonatas outstay their welcome.
Coming new to these works I was struck by an underlying lethargy that made me wonder whether it was the music or the performance that was at fault … or maybe a bit of both. Following some online research I came across another recording of the sonatas performed by Robert Murray and Daniel Graham, originally a Musical Heritage Society release and now reissued as Violin Rarities - a vinyl transfer by Raven records. You can listen to excerpts if you go to this link.
The timings tell a story:
Cammarano/Deljavan take 51 minutes longer to play the three sonatas compared to the duo on the Raven set, which is quite remarkable. It’s hard to believe that they are the same works and it’s also extraordinary, listening to the results that Cammarano and Deljavan could think that such sluggish tempi would yield a musically exciting experience for the listener. The first sonata should start with an opening Allegro con moto. Cammarano/Deljavan are distinctly lacking the con moto element, clocking in at 14:33 vs 7:51 on Raven. Their idea of Presto (the third movement) is barely an Allegro (7:12 vs 4:37). It’s the same story for all three sonatas. The third sonata in Cammarano’s hands is a staggering 19 minutes longer than Murray’s and to say that it sags is an understatement. The music simply fails to take flight. My own conclusion is that these already long, rambling works are totally emasculated by the slow tempi on this release.
Putting the issues of tempi to one side - not that you really can - the technical aspects of the performance are good. The violinist tends to overplay the dramatic parts and her tone starts to suffer. The pianist offers decent support throughout. The recording is clear but lacking in perspective and depth. This is a disappointing release and the pleasant makeweights are no more than pleasant. Has it in any way whetted my appetite to search out other versions of these sonatas? Unfortunately, it hasn’t. These are pleasant, romantic pieces but certainly not lost masterpieces worthy of a place in the repertoire. Buy this inexpensive set with great caution.
A comment from a reader, Teona Martiashvili
Recently I bought the above Cammarano/Deljavan CD because I wanted to become familiar with Rubinstein’s works.
I have a vast CD collection and mostly enjoy listening to the old masters; a different spirit comes alive from the older recordings. It seems to me that today’s most modern studio recordings sound quite similar in production. If there were not different performers names on the CD cover, I would not notice the difference.
I picked up and started listening to the Rubinstein violin sonatas. It suddenly opened up a different world to me: amazing, miraculous, unforgettable performances that stir the soul.
It is hard to describe these excellent performances in words, as I am not a professional critic. However, I am a pianist from the former USSR where, by the way, critics were musicians and vice versa. I can say that the music and the performances are very graceful, exquisite, full of fantasy, emotions, poetry and magnetic grip. These seize the feelings and the listener’s mind just as if entering into a fairy world.
Daniela Cammarano and Alessandro Deljavan comprehend very well all the subtle nuances and create those captivating moments, which cause the listener not to move so as not to miss any second of it.
Both musicians are formidably talented and highly trained professionals. It is difficult to differentiate separately all the impeccable qualities these musicians possess because they are so harmoniously combined in music. Ms Cammarano’s sound quality and feeling of the music were astonishing. Mr Deljavan, a very sophisticated musician, has a wonderful ear. He brings out glamorous colours in the sounds, awaking the listeners’ imagination. His phrasing and expressing of musical ideas are superb. Mr. Deljavan has mastered a brilliant technique that serves well the purpose of music.
After attentively listening to all three CDs I was greatly impressed. I then went online to search for more CDs to purchase by Daniela Cammarano and Alessandro Deljavan. In doing so I found article written by a critic, which surprised and shocked me. Even if I feel great respect for everybody’s opinion, I still would like to express my modest viewpoint on this article.
The aforementioned critic writes: “Cammarano/Deljavan take 51 minutes longer to play the three sonatas compared to the duo on the Raven set, which is quite remarkable.”
I clicked on the recommended link to listen to the Raven set. I did not like it at all. Out of curiosity I carefully listened to all of them. Cammarano/Deljavan sound like a heaven after hearing the Raven set. It is easy to compare and contrast the two performances and Cammarano/Deljavan are by far the better performance of the two.
Second, as I understand it, he recommends the faster tempo would be better as most of his article is about tempos and time charts. He writes: “listening to the results that Cammarano and Deljavan could think that such sluggish tempi would yield a musically exciting experience for the listener.”
I listened to their CDs over again, after reading the article and what surprised me was that their performance was full of miracles, with musicians creating a beautiful work of art. Those qualities were never mentioned in the review.
These sonatas are not written only for virtuosity or to display technique. This is music, that requires a quest for creativity, intelligence, cleverness, perception and give the performers plenty of opportunity to show how masterfully they can use their skills and abilities as mature musicians.
These graceful performances are full of reason, insight, philosophy, sophistication and flight. They did not require any faster tempos - that would only have made them much, much worse. It is obvious, based on the performers’ experience, that it would not be hard for them to play even twenty times faster but it just would not make sense. I felt that the tempos the musicians chose were the best and only ones. It is a matter of opinion and personal taste.
Third, what was not clear to me was the apparent contradiction evident within the article.
First I read: “Following some online research I came across another recording of the sonatas performed by Robert Murray and Daniel Graham”
Later I read: “Has it in any way whetted my appetite to search out other versions of these sonatas? Unfortunately, it hasn’t.”
Having devoted my life to music, I know how much work, energy and spirit dedicated musicians put into their performances. I would recommend everyone to listen to these amazing recordings and make their own judgment. I found myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to hear this outstanding performance.
And John Whitmore's reply
Most of this is, of course, highly subjective. I've just listened again to the Sonata No.1 and I still have the same opinion. Despite some beautiful playing the sluggish tempi stop the music taking flight and the sheer length of some of the movements makes the music outstay it's welcome.
There is one point made by Teona that I would like to clarify: Third, what was not clear to me was the apparent contradiction evident within the article. First I read: “Following some online research I came across another recording of the sonatas performed by Robert Murray and Daniel Graham” Later I read: “Has it in any way whetted my appetite to search out other versions of these sonatas? Unfortunately, it hasn’t.”
After listening to a few bars of CD1 I took a quick look online to see if there were samples of other recordings or even some timings for the sonatas. I did this because, coming new to these works, the performance of the opening Allegro con moto of Sonata No.1 didn't sound right. It was very laid back and lacked forward momentum. The con moto element was, to my ears, missing. That's how I came across the Raven recordings and the timing differences suggested to me that the tempi on the Brilliant Classics set were just too slow. I then proceeded to listen to the 3 CDs three times each in two sittings. To be honest, I didn't especially enjoy the music. That's why I added a statement at the end of my review saying that I wouldn't be looking elsewhere for any other versions. There is no contradiction. I hope this clears things up.
CD 1 [68'43]
Violin Sonata No.1 in G Op.13
1 I. Moderato con moto 14'33
2 II. Moderato 2'25
3 Variation I: Allegro non troppo 2'24
4 Variation II: Moderato assai 8'23
5 III. Scherzo: Prestissimo 7'12
6 IV. Finale: Adagio non troppo - Moderato con moto - Adagio non troppo - Tempo I 11'09
Three Salon Pieces Op.11
7 I. Allegro appassionato 5'31
8 II. Andante - Più mosso - Meno mosso - Tempo I 10'41
9 III. Allegro 6'21
CD 2 [49'21]
Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor Op.19
1 I. Allegro non troppo 12'44
2 II. Scherzo: Allegro assai 7'00
3 III. Adagio non troppo 14'12
4 IV. Allegro 11'50
5 Romance in E flat transcribed from Soirées à Saint-Petersbourg Op.44 No.1 3'32
CD 3 [54'23]
Violin Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.98
1 I. Lento - Allegro vivace 20'08
2 II. Moderato assai 8'29
3 III. Moderato assai 12'35
4 IV. Allegro moderato - Presto scherzando - Tempo I - Moderato assai - Allegro assai 13'10