Sergio Gallo excels with Rubinstein

Anton Rubinstein was judged one of the greatest pianists of his age. And he was no slouch as a composer, either. He had well over 100 published compositions, including operas, symphonies, and piano concertos. But his style was cosmopolitan. And Russian nationalist composers were the taste-makers (in Russia). 

The historical narrative made the Mighty Five have heroes moving Russian music forward. And Rubinstein became a pianist who wrote derivative and therefore justly forgotten music.

But Rubinstein’s actual compositions tell another story. As a pianist, he had phenomenal technique. And because he traveled widely as a soloist and a conductor he was exposed to a wide variety of music and cultures. His music reflects those influences and is more in line with Western European music.

But at the same time, it’s also highly individualistic. Rubinstein knew how to construct and manipulate melodies. He used harmonies to create the frameworks for his ideas. And especially with his piano music, he used his talent to write music that very few others could.

This release presents two collections from his vast catalog of keyboard music. The Three Caprices, Op. 21 was completed in 1855. Rubinstein was in the midst of a four-year concert tour, one that would be a complete triumph.

The caprices aren’t the most difficult pieces ever written. But they require talent to pull them off. Rubinstein wanted his students to think about what they were playing. To go beyond the notes. 

Pianist Sergio Gallo does just that. His phrasing masterfully shapes the music to reveal the depths of the compositions. He makes connections between motives, highlighting the cohesiveness of Rubinstein’s compositions.

The Six Pieces, Op. 51 were published two years later. These are more advanced works. While the style is different, the thickness of the textures reminds me of Franz Liszt. 

But these aren’t showpieces. Gallo keeps the focus on what’s important — the melody. Some of the passages are pretty impressive. But in the end, it’s the melodies that kept me engaged with these pieces.

Anton Rubinstein: Piano Music
Three Caprices, Op. 21; Six Pieces Op. 51
Sergio Gallo, piano

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