String Quartet No.2 in c minor, Op.17 No.2
"Both of Anton Rubinstein's Op.17 string quartets, composed in the early 1850's, are noteworthy. The opening movement of No.2, Moderato, begins with a Fugue whose main theme is quite expressive. The spirited and syncopated accompaniment is quite effective. In the second movement, Allegro molto vivace, it is the tremendous forward motion rather than any theme which captures the listener's attention, although the middle section has a deeply felt expressive theme. The short third movement, Andante, played with mutes might be styled music of the spheres or heavens. The finale, Moderato, begins in an extraordinarily dramatic fashion. But the composer does not ignore lyricism as heard in the wonderful second theme."---Wilhelm Altmann writing in his Handbook for String Quartet Players
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 music, including String Quartet No.2, 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.
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 other chamber works. But, it must be admitted that many of these works do not rise above the commonplace. Rubinstein was simply too fluent a writer for his own good and lacked the patience to take pencil and eraser to the manuscript page to improve what he had just dashed off. Few composers could have produced anything at all of merit doing this, but Rubinstein, by the sheer prodigious quality of his talent, was frequently able to create works of astonishing beauty and quite good style.
Like his First String Quartet, this one too is filled with fresh and strikingly beautiful melodies which both players and listeners alike will enjoy.