United Kingdom Couperin, Ravel, Haydn, Chopin. Roman Rabinovich (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 10.12.2013 (RB)
Couperin – Five pièces de clavecin from Ordre 18
Ravel – Prélude from Le tombeau de Couperin
Minuet on the name of Haydn
Haydn – Piano Sonata in A Flat HXVI: 46
Ravel – Two Movements from Daphnis et Chloé (arr Rabinovich)
Chopin – 24 Preludes Op 28
Roman Rabinovich is a former winner of the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv and he has just released his first CD for Orchid Classics featuring virtuoso transcriptions of ballet works by Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Ravel. The latter is Rabinovich’s own arrangement of Daphnis et Chloé which featured in this evening’s programme. Rabinovich is a very self-contained and undemonstrative figure on stage and he seemed focused on tone production and on creating musical, poetic interpretations.
The first half of the concert explored the musical links between Couperin, Haydn and Ravel and the ways in which the two earlier composers influenced Ravel. It opened with five pieces from Couperin’s eighteenth Ordre (or suite) including the famous Le tic-toc-chou. The opening Allemande had a contemplative feel and there was some intricate ornamentation which was exquisitely executed. In La Verneüilléte and Soeur Monique I was impressed with Rabinovich’s range of touch and articulation all designed to bring out distinctive details and musical features. Le tic-toc-chou refers to a family of acrobats and pianists have to perform their own acrobatics when performing it as the hands are superimposed or interlocking and there are some tricky repeated notes. Rabinovich made it sound spry and elegant with touch and timbre perfectly judged.
The 4 pieces by Ravel and the intervening Haydn sonata were all played without a break. In the Prélude from Le Tombeau de Couperin, Rabinovich produced a wash of impressionistic sonorities while handling Ravel’s glittering piano figurations with ease. The ensuing Minuet was tender and graceful with Rabinovich producing a ravishing tone. Daphnis et Chloé does not use baroque musical forms for its inspiration but Ravel first envisaged it taking place in a setting resembling the Rococo paintings of Watteau. The composer made a piano reduction for rehearsal purposes and it is this which Rabinovich used as the starting point for his transcription of the Pan and Syrinx mime and the final Danse Générale. I have not seen the score but it sounds highly virtuosic with very rapid scales and glissandi as well as highly intricate textures. Rabinovich conjured up a seductive and evocative mood for the Pan and Syrinx mime although there was were some very rapid scale figurations imitating the flute. The Danse générale is one of those spectacular barnstorming pieces guaranteed to bring the house down: Rabinovich played the opening figurations at lightning speed and he succeeded in sustaining the momentum until the final moment of euphoric celebration.
In the middle of the Ravel selection, we heard a Haydn sonata from 1767 -68 when the composer was under the influence of CPE Bach. Rabinovich’s playing of this work was absolute perfection. The lines were elegantly shaped and beautifully tapered in the opening Allegro, while the quirky wit shone through and the embellishments were light and decorative. The Adagio had a gorgeous tonal lustre and a wonderful sense of flow and feeling of space. In the finale, Rabinovich captured the ebullient mood and high spirits of the piece and the rapid figurations were clearly and elegantly played. The degree of technical finish throughout was exemplary and the sonata had clearly been studied very closely.
The second half consisted of Chopin’s Op 28 Preludes which were again inspired by baroque musical forms. Chopin’s music is always very poised between the classical and romantic traditions and achieving that balance is one of the things which make his music so difficult. The preludes represent the composer as his most startling and original and they are very difficult to bring off in concert so bravo to Rabinovich in doing such a good job with them. He brought a natural improvisational feel to the C major and D major preludes while the left hand semiquavers in the G major were played with quicksilver lightness of touch. The preludes in B, B flat and F sharp were gorgeous with Rabinovich attentive to the vocal nature of the writing and producing a luminous tone. The ‘Raindrop’ prelude had a guileless charm and simplicity while the B flat minor which followed was played at an absolutely blistering pace. I loved the dramatic turbulence of the G minor, the exquisite legato lines of the E flat and the dark, brooding resonance of the E flat minor. I was less convinced by the F sharp minor which did not quite have the uncontained tempestuous quality that I was looking for and the F minor which was framed a little too classically. The E minor also sounded a little uneventful but after Cortot it is difficult for any pianist to know what to do with it.
The whole concert was played in an exceptionally cultivated way and with a high degree of technical finish. Rabinovich clearly has the technique to play whatever he likes but the one question I had about him was how would he fare in more primal or aggressive music by, say, Bartók or Prokofiev. I gather he is currently engaged in a project to perform all the Prokofiev piano concertos so we will no doubt soon find out.
There were encores by Bach and Schumann to end an evening of exceptional music making.