Variations in F minor
Reflections on a Souvenir [World premiere]
Piano Sonata No.1 in D minor, Op.28
Piano Sonata in B minor
Romanian Rhapsody No.1 [Composers transcription]
Ian Hobson (piano)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 18 April, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Since winning the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1981, Ian Hobson’s UK profile has been low, which would go some way to explaining why the Wigmore Hall was three-quarters empty. In fact, he has been appearing all over the world as both a pianist and conductor and launched his own recording company – Zephyr – in 1998.
This Wigmore programme was strange – the Haydn sat rather oddly with the rest of the works and quite why anyone would want to play anything after the Liszt B minor is beyond me. I was also intrigued as to why the piano was so far to the right and the pianist centre-stage.
The Haydn is a double set of variations which relies on contrasts of rhythm, decoration, dynamics and tonal shading to impart its desolate message. Hobson played the opening themes in dead march rhythm with too much pedal, his rubato was romantic and unsubtle, the dynamic range never fell below piano and some of the scale passages were uneven: suave and sophisticated but too relaxed and emotionally underplayed.
Roberto Sierra’s Reflections, with its echoes of Liszt and modernism proved the equivalent of a tour de force by Gottschalk whose Souvenir de Puerto Rico inspired the work. The whole thing was great fun with South American dance-rhythms, and a supposedly traditional Puerto Rican melody combined with a bit of old-fashioned chromaticism and dissonance, of which Hobson gave a barnstorming performance
Rachmaninov’s First Sonata is not well-known and is rather more notable for the number of notes on each page than its creative content. Hobson was largely equal to its technical demands but stylistically and interpretatively he was seriously awry. Dynamically there was little or nothing below piano and a surfeit of ff robbed climaxes of their impact. In the slow movement the opening rocking ostinato bass was well conveyed but too much use of the sustaining pedal robbed the theme of its Russian melancholy, and in the finale both pedals appeared to be flat on the floor throughout.
Liszt’s B minor is the greatest sonata of any description composed after Beethoven and Hobson’s playing of it was crude. The opening was over-pedalled, the second theme lacking definition and devilry, and the grandioso third theme lacked a sense of awe with the right-hand too prominent. In the development there were some delightful arabesques but in both slower sections the tempo was too fast and once again the pedals were overused, leading to muddied textures and a lack of specific emotional detail. The fugue was monochrome and lacked punch while the lead up to the final statement of the grandioso theme brought no gradual increase in tempo – as marked – the theme itself smashed out (as the Enescu would be) and the final note allowed to resonate for several seconds.