Anton Rubinstein was considered one of the greatest pianists of his age. But what he really wanted was to be a high-regarded composer. This album features two of his Op. 47 string quartets, composed in 1855. Thanks to the legacy of Beethoven, the string quartet was considered the summit of chamber music, just as the symphony was for orchestral music.
Rubinstein took those challenges seriously, carefully crafting quartets of substance and artful development. When he completed the three Op. 47 quartets, he sent them off to Liszt to see if they were worthy of performance.
The answer must have been positive, because members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra premiered one of them in January 1856. Over 150 years later, the other two quartets also receive the same. The Reinhold Quartett performers are all members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
The quartet has a honeyed ensemble sound I found quite attractive. Rubinstein has created some wonderful melodies, and the players lean into their lyricism.
Rubinstein the concert pianist may have been a showman, but there’s nothing showy about these quartets. The music is serious, focussed, and perhaps a little introspective. My impression is these works were written as much for the performers as for any prospective audience.
Anyone interested in the quartets of Schumann, Mendelssohn, or Brahms should check these out. Rubinstein’s quartets provide fresh insights with every hearing. As you would expect of music from a great composer.
Anton Rubinstein: String Quartets Op. 47 Nos. 1 & 3