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Breathtaking Pianism

Ian Hobson's Wigmore Hall piano recital


A piano recital by Ian Hobson at London's Wigmore Hall on 18 April 2006 displayed his phenomenal virtuosity and orchestral approach to the instrument. British-born Hobson, who won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1982 and has been based in the USA for some thirty years, has a predilection for virtuoso Romantic works, shown by his remarkable recordings of all the concertos by Moscheles and Rachmaninov. His choice of programme reflected this love of the virtuoso, with two large-scale sonatas, Rachmaninov's First Sonata and Liszt's B minor Sonata, both amongst the most demanding of the repertoire, and two shorter highlights: the world première of Reflection on a Souvenir by Roberto Sierra, and George Enescu's Rhapsodie Romaine No 1 in the composer's transcription, a thrilling tour de force.

As an opener, Haydn's Variations in F minor were savoured also for their pianistic felicities, the slightly fast tempo overall bringing to the fore the cadenza-like passagework and trill-filled textures of the variations with Beethovenian richness. Beethoven's debt to Haydn was also emphasised in Hobson's highly charged approach to the coda, with its string of diminished sevenths that resolve into dominant harmonies foreshadowing similar gestures in the first movement of Beethoven's Appassionata sonata: no wonder, as Haydn's work was composed in 1793, the very year during which Beethoven was apprentice to Haydn in Vienna.

There was a great sense of fun and exuberance to the world première of Reflections on a Souvenir by the Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra (born 1953), inspired by Gottschalk's Souvenir de Porto Rico, subtitled 'Marche des Gibaros' ('Procession of the Peasants'). Sierra is one of the most successful and prolific contemporary American composers, recipient of the 2003 Award in music of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Professor at Cornel University. His music relishes the combination of diverse elements, such as Latin American musics with contemporary avant-garde atonality, as shown in his Fanfares, performed at the 2002 London Proms season. The Reflections on a Souvenir is a type of variation set, compelling in its originality, opening in an evocative atonal ambience, and gradually reconstructing the Puerto Rican dance theme itself as if through a textural filter, and intensifying to a climactic variation where the theme appears in ebullient, bright Latin American colours and syncopation, full of wide leaping gestures which Hobson projected with zest.

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Copyright © 22 April 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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