Cello Sonata No.1 in D Major, Op.18
Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) was one of the great piano virtuosi of the 19th century with a technique said to rival that of Liszt. He also gained renown as a composer and conductor.
Rubinstein was one of those rare concert virtuosi whose contribution to music went far beyond performing. In 1862, he founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory and served as its first director. His efforts in developing Russian musical talent were perhaps the greatest of any single individual. Not only did he introduce European educational methods but he also established standards that were as rigorous as any conservatory in Europe.
While Rubinstein's compositions were extremely popular during his lifetime, after his death, they were criticized because they showed "no Russian influence" and were viewed as derivatives of prominent European contemporaries, especially of Mendelssohn. Despite the fact that commentator after commentator has repeated this assertion, almost as if it were a litany, it is nonetheless not entirely accurate. Although he was not part of the so-called emergent Russian national school as led by Rimsky Korsakov, it is not true that there is no Russian influence to be found in his music. This influence is just not as pronounced as in the works of Borodin, Mussorgsky or of Korsakov himself. However, listeners to Rubinstein's String Quartet No.1, which dates from the mid 1850's, will not only hear the influence of Mendelssohn, but also hear Russian melody and rhythm of the sort used by Borodin and others 20 years later. Certainly the Presto, with its lovely trio in particular, sound quite a lot like the music Borodin penned in the 1870's.
Rubinstein was a prolific composer writing in nearly every genre. Chamber music figures prominently amongst his works. He wrote 10 string quartets, at least 5 piano trios, a string quintet and a string sextet as well as several instrumental sonatas.
Cello Sonata No.1 in D Major is a fairly early work, written at a time when Mendelssohn was Rubinstein's model. Although the former's influence can, at times, clearly be heard, nonetheless, the sonata is as good as those of Mendelssohn. The opening Allegro moderato begins somewhat quietly with a determined, processional theme. The development is livelier and leads to a broad, lyrical melody. There is a cadenza for the cello which then leads to the coda. The middle movement, a cross between a scherzo and an intermezzo, is a rocking Siciliano, full of melancholic charm. However, there is also a stormy middle section which provides excellent contrast. The brilliant finale, Allegro molto, brings to mind Mendelssohn. Against the sparkling piano part, the cello gives out a brief "trumpet call" before emitting the joyous main theme.