Classical Music Guide Forum - Sunday, July 31, 2011 - Written by Donald Isler

Friday Night at the IKIF - Rabinovich and Hamelin

6 PM Program:
Roman Rabinovich
Bach: English Suite No. 5 in E minor, BWV 810
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe (arr. Rabinovich)
Brahms: Intermezzi Op. 119, No. 1 and 3
Stravinsky: Petrushka Suite

8:30 PM Program:
Marc-André Hamelin
Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1
Stockhausen: Klavierstücke IX
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
Liszt: Sonata in B minor

Roman Rabinovich is a young Uzbekistan-born Israeli pianist who studied at the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv as well as in this country at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School. He already has a busy international career and is also a gifted painter who has won awards for his artwork.

One noticed several things as soon as he began his program with the Fifth English Suite of Bach. He played with very fine nuancing which, together with terrific fingers, made for wonderful clarity in multi-voice writing. He took rather fast tempi for some of the movements and used a bit more Romantic freedom than usual with the beat (some people might feel, a bit too much), but it was always interesting. He also had some nice creative ideas, such as playing the repeat of the theme in the second Passepied an octave higher.

In 1988, when Mr. Rabinovich was three years old I heard the almost 96 year old Mieczyslaw Horszowski play this English Suite at Town Hall. I wonder what Mr. Rabinovich would think of that performance? Horszowski obviously didn't have the energy (or tempi!) of a young man at that point in his life but there was a wisdom and a dignity and a calm in his playing that were wonderful.

In the first movement of Mr. Rabinovich's impressive arrangement of Daphnis and Chloe I first heard the repose I had occasionally wished for in the Bach. It was wonderful, and one especially couldn't help but notice the exotic beauty of the second movement. The fast movements were exhilarating, especially the fiendishly difficult concluding Danse générale.

Mr. Rabinovich's technique is strong, indeed. One never worries for him. I was reminded of Abram Chasins' comment to the exceptionally reliable Wilhelm Backhaus after the latter gave a recital: "But you never play wrong notes!" Replied Backhaus: "I don't practice the wrong notes!"

After the intermission Mr. Rabinovich played the slow Brahms Intermezzo in B minor and the jaunty C major Intermezzo with affection, and then launched into a blockbuster performance of Petrushka, which was hugely impressive! He caught all the changes of mood wonderfully from sprightly to ironic to coy to forceful. The clarity of voicing referred to before, plus his wonderful rhythmic sense (especially with syncopation) and his terrific imagination all worked to great effect.

Mr. Rabinovich played three encores, the first two by Scarlatti. He gave a lovely perfumed performance of the slow C minor Sonata, and then a lively, bouncy reading of the Sonata in D minor. After which, for a change of pace, he played the Rachmaninoff G Sharp minor Prelude, which was also very good.

A very impressive recital.

Then I spent the rest of the evening listening to one of the great pianists of our time.

Marc-André Hamelin, who will turn 50 this year, has been before the public for quite a few years and is now getting more of the recognition he deserves. He is greatly respected by serious musicians for playing not just the super-virtuoso pieces of the standard repertoire but also a great deal of neglected repertoire, and for his own compositions. He has always been a fine and refined musician but he is sometimes criticized, unfairly, for being brilliant but not warm or "individual" enough.

In fact, the foremost impression one gets today at a Hamelin recital is that one is viewing (with the ears!) a masterpiece, just about every piece of which has been put perfectly into place. Technically, musically and inspirationally nothing is missing. And if anyone can recommend a better live performance of Gaspard than the mind-blowing one we heard this evening I would love to hear it; such a thing seems almost unimaginable!

The Berg Sonata, a wonderfully expressive work "leaning into" the 20th Century was gorgeous.

The Stockhausen piece was familiar to me because Shura Cherkassky used to play it. I don't know if Hamelin plays it better or if I've finally heard it enough to "get it" but I was more impressed with the music this evening than formerly. After the repeated clashing chords at the beginning, which come back several times, there are some amazing sound effects, created by using both pedals, cryptic staccato "Morse Code" type passages, and at the end some intriguing soft but ever so slightly varied tones.

The aforementioned Gaspard, certainly one of the highlights of my musical year, featured an Ondine of unearthly grace, a slow, mesmerizing Le gibet and a Scarbo which was quirky, volcanic and fantastically sensual. Although the audience did not rise at the end of Gaspard it sounded like everyone was yelling "Bravo!" together.

The second half of the program was the Liszt Sonata. It was played brilliantly, with the fugato and octave sections near the end at a terrific speed. But I'll bet that equally impressive to this audience was the beauty with which Mr. Hamelin played the slow sections, leaning on the motive in an unusual manner, making maximum effect of changes of color, and always getting the pacing just right.

A loud, standing ovation greeted Mr. Hamelin at the conclusion of the Liszt Sonata and there followed two encores. The first was a ravishing performance of Ravel's Jeux d'Eau and the second was a short Prelude No. 5 in E major by a friend of Scriabin, whose name I could not hear clearly when Mr. Hamelin announced it. He said it was one of his many findings when looking for little known music. It was a lovely piece with which to conclude a recital most people in this audience felt privileged to hear.

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