String Quartet No.5 in B flat Major, Op.47 No.2
Writing in Handbook for String Quartet Players, the famous chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann has this to say about Rubinstein’s String Quartet No.5 in B flat Major: “While Rubinstein’s first set of three quartets, his Op.17, showed little influence of his Russian homeland, this is not the case in his next three, the Op.47 which appeared in 1857. clearly do show such influence. The opening movement, Moderato con moto, begins with a warm-blooded melody given out by the cello. The other themes which follow are also quite attractive. In the second movement, Moderato, the main section has the quality of a folk dance while the trio section, though not so marked approximates a waltz. The third movement, Moderato assai, is a set five of interesting variations of a simple theme. The second and fifth variations are particularly striking. The main subject of the finale, Vivace, is dance like but later is turned into an engaging fugue.”
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.
This quartet is filled with fresh and strikingly beautiful melodies which both players and listeners alike will enjoy.