BWW Reviews: Ian Hobson Plays Brahms - All of It!
THE BRAHMS PIANO CYCLE - DiMENNA CENTER - 10/8/13
The esteemed pianist Ian Hobson is giving New York an early Christmas present. He is performing the Herculean task of playing all of Johannes Brahms piano music in a cycle of fourteen concerts over the course of two months. To assist him in the task, he is bringing along an eclectic group of world-class artists. Fans of Brahms should be delighted because one would have to wait a lifetime for any chamber ensemble to get to all of these magnificent pieces.
The concert began with the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major. Written while on a summer vacation in 1878, the sonata represented Brahms first venture into piano and violin territory. The results however suggest a mastery of the form which either Mozart or Beethoven would have envied, while at the same time remaining uniquely and immediately Brahms. The Sonata in G Major is a three-movement work that features numerous musical references to two of Brahms's earlier songs, Regenlied and Nachklang, from 1873. These songs were set to poems written by his friend Klaus Groth. The interesting and unique feature about the poems, the songs and to some extent the sonata is that they evoke rain in symbolic fashion.
Violinist Andres Cardenas accompanied Maestro Hobson in the sonata and provided a wonderfully lush and expansive reading of the work. His playing was velvety and deeply plumbed the intricacies and nuances of the first movement. The major theme moves from violin to piano and back and the interplay was adeptly if not crisply handled but as the piece moved on the connection grew deeper and smoother. The adagio movement was a thing of beauty. Mr. Hobson possesses the rare skill of bringing tremendous energy and dynamics to even the more quiet and delicate sections of a piece.
A compete retrospective of a composer's works requires visiting all of the catalogue, not merely the popular pieces. The Horn Trio in E Flat is not a favorite of this writer. It has always provided the impression of an experiment that was not fully thought out. Bernard Scully played wonderfully, providing a warm rich tone. While there are some lovely moments in the trio, there is altogether too much repetition and unison playing between horn and violin to make it consistently interesting. Only the final movement, which is a complete departure from the dreary first three movements, really succeeds. Mr. Scully finally had a chance to stretch his musical legs, and he did so, as the galloping melody provided a cheerful (and tuneful) finale to the piece.
The ravishing Sonata No. 3 concluded the program and it was indeed a case of "saving the best for last." From the first notes, Maestros Hobson and Cardenas performed the work as if they'd been playing it together for a lifetime. The intimate interplay was something to behold. The gorgeous second movement seemed to transport the audience to another time and place, as virtually all of the capacity crowd began to gently sway, eyes-closed in ecstasy, to the music. The final movement, with its hymn-like quality brought the concert to a fitting conclusion.
To reward the appreciative crowd, Maestros Hobson and Cardenas performed brief encore, also from the German repertory but from a different composer: Beethoven's "Spring Sonata."
Maestro Hobson is an exceptionally refined player. He is particularly interesting to watch because in spite of his deeply passionate playing, he rarely raised his fingers from the keyboard at all, seemingly preferring to allow the music rather than dramatic gestures to convey the message. Even in the most dynamic sections of the piece, he exemplified control. That is not to say he is in any way a timid player, quite the contrary, his sound can be ferocious even while his demeanor is quiet calm. One might safely assume that the German masters of the 19th century would approve of the kind of nobility he brings to every performance.
It is notable that Mr. Hobson has also chosen to make the cycle available at an extremely reasonable cost. No one who wants to attend should be turned off by the price. In a time when tickets to the symphony and the opera have become increasingly prohibitive and subscription-based revenues are dropping like a stone, it is laudable of Mr. Hobson to bring this kind of music, this caliber of playing, and this extensive repertory to the public at a cost that all can afford. This series is an all-too-rare event in New York and BroadwayWorld Classical.com recommends that fans run to the DiMenna Center to see it.
Johannes Brahms: Classical Inclinations in a Romantic Age is the title of the series and it will continue to run at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music every Tuesday and Thursday evening until November 14th.
The Ian Hobson now through Nov. 14 at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th Street, Manhattan; tickets are available the box office or at: