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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    BREATHTAKING PIANISM


Rachmaninov and Liszt's sonatas had great spans of breathtaking pianistic pyrotechnics in which the intricate counterpoints of the textures were always absolutely clear to the ear. The Rachmaninov first sonata, less often played than the second, is based on the Faust legend with each of its three movements portraying one of the protagonists, Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles, with the final movement's cyclical return of the Faust and Gretchen themes proposing a programmatic dénouement.

Hobson presented each of the themes with crystalline clarity and character, the stark, bold fifths of the Faust movement followed by a more reflective chordal theme, tinged with the modal harmony of Russian sacred music. The propulsive waves of tension welled with incredible control, until the third, chant like theme triumphantly concluded the first movement in its brighter major mode guise. The delicate two-part voicing of the Gretchen theme was beautifully translucent, again generating a richly sumptuous Rachmaninov texture that anticipates the third concerto, while in the third movement, the jaunty cheeky devilish theme, interrupted by some caressing nocturne-like reminiscence of earlier themes, kept the music ever in motion and thrusting forward to the dramatic final bars.

This was breathtaking pianism, despite the shortcomings of the work which the composer himself noted, and which are evident in the somewhat clichéd sequential patterns, an all too clear, even naïve, symbolism, and over sectionalisation, aspects which were happily avoided in his symphonic writing and the later piano works, such as the concertos, all of which Hobson has recently recorded as both soloist and conductor.

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Copyright © 22 April 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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