In a Debut, Pianist Teaches Keys to Romance

United StatesUnited States Liszt/R. Schumann, Schubert, Grieg, C. Schumann, R. Schumann: Christina Kobb (piano), Weill Recital Hall, New York City 24.2.2017. (DS)

R.Schumann/LisztLiebeslied, ‘Widmung’
Schubert – Sonata in A minor
GriegDrei Phantasiestuecke
C.SchumannQuatre Pieces caracteristiques: III. Romance, IV. Scene Fantastique: Le Ballet des Revenants
R.Schumann – Sonata No.1 in F-sharp minor

Performance often parades as a synonym for entertainment, but the essence of what is communicated spans a vast spectrum of experiences. In pianist Christina Kobb’s debut performance at Weill Recital Hall, entertainment was only one part of a greater purpose: teaching, exploring, and sharing.

Kobb introduced herself as a sophisticated curator, programming “Keys to Romance” to encapsulate ardent relationships, both romantic and platonic. A young Grieg slipped in effectively as a nod to her own Norwegian nationality. Kobb also wrote the program notes which were eye-catching and quotable, full of anecdotes and excerpts from letters, and provided an accessible context to the oft-complex (and downright demanding) music. Her sense of humor also came through, too, such as her comment on the Schumann’s: “Forget about When Harry Met Sally. ‘When Robert Met Clara’ would beat most romantic movies!”

At the piano, Kobb smiled often and figuratively danced with the instrument. Her academic side emerged with consistent, clear, and succinct emphasis on each theme, as if saying, “Here it is and you will find it again in different forms. Listen carefully.”

As the explorer, Kobb tried out different interpretations. In Liszt’s arrangement of “Widmung” from Robert Schumann’s Liebeslied, her unorthodox rejection of legato for certain passages spurred scintillating discussion between me and my listening companion. In Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, the quality of her touch blended the Romantic with the Baroque in a distinct post-modern style that was refreshing and bold.

During the Grieg Drei Phantasiestuecke, an early work not often heard, Kobb gave glimmers of the composer’s career to come, and illuminated those qualities – with thoughtfulness and clarity – that linked him to his Viennese colleagues. Excerpts from Clara Schumann’s Quatre Pieces caracteristiques were delivered like a gift, as Kobb channeled the composer’s romantic life and, perhaps, revealed her joy in playing a composition by a fellow female pianist. In any case, it was a beautiful reverie – a colorful tapestry of themes sewn together.

Kobb played the entire concert by memory – a feat on its own, but noteworthy in Robert Schumann’s Sonata no.1. This deeply demanding material will try to outdo any performer in its madness of sequential layering, but her maturity as a pianist and interpreter shone through. Though Schumann famously wrote some of the most difficult scherzos, Kobb met the challenge with virtuosity and skill, never sacrificing her interpretive thread to the technical demands. As any teacher might hope, she held her students – including me – in full attention and wonder.

Daniele Sahr

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