by Philipp Vogler
Last spring, as I was looking through the library of the University of Music in Munich, I found two books with songs by the russian composer Anton Rubinstein. The volumes were beautifully bound in a dark green cover with the name „Leo Slezak“ embossed in gold. Hélène and I had already recorded Rubinstein‘s song „Morgenlied“ for our Art Song Project. To find that the great tenor Leo Slezak, widely famous as well for his opera as well as for his art song performances, had sung Rubinstein songs made me very curious, so I brought the volumes home with me to show Hélène.
With a nice glass of wine we set out to play and sing through the first volume. We started with the Heine-songs Op. 32. The more songs we went through, the more excited we got. We discovered a composer whose richness of ideas seemed to expand with every single song we tried out. The composer of the famous „Melodie in F“ suddenly appeared in a new light: Rubinstein obviously was highly educated in music and literature, and very influenced by classicism.
Many songs reminded us of Mendelssohn and others of Schumann, and yet this was a musical language of its own. The expression of Rubinsteins songs is based on the concentration on a very clear musical form. We noted that Rubinstein must have had a fondness of the octave as a form element, almost as if he had used it as his signature. As a result, we had fun looking out for new places exposing the octave motif.
A great discovery still awaited us: the Persian Songs Op. 34. Like other 19th century composers, Rubinstein must have been fascinated by the exotic color of the poetry, and of the possibility to create similarly exotic sounds to match. But contrary to other colleagues of his, he succeeded in integrating this exotic flavor in his own musical language, without the foreign elements sounding strange or artificial. Hélènes father is egyptian, so she was happy to find these songs for this reason as well.
We couldn‘t decide which of all the beautiful songs we would put on our Art Song Project. Why not present Rubinstein more in depth? So we decided to produce our own CD.
The sound engineer Robert Schneider already made us feel great way back when we recorded our first CD with songs by Alban Berg. He is a true wizard of his craft. We met up with him and showed him the songs, and asked if he‘d join us. He was totally enthusiastic, and so we recorded the Rubinstein songs on three very warm days in July in the auditorium of the University of Music in Munich.
Doing research for the project, Hélène found the article „The songs by Mirza-Schaffy and the Opus 34 by Anton Rubinstein – between folklore, nationalism and orientalism“ by Nadejda Lebedeva, published in the „Archives for musical science“. Hélène contacted her and told her about our recording. She was happy to hear that a production of the songs in the original version was finally being made, and promised to write an introduction for us.
We like to thank Nadejda Lebedeva, Robert Schneider, and all the other people who have helped us create our first „indy“ CD, and we wish you, dear listeners, as much pleasure listening to our recording as we had making it.