18th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 30th, 2016
Schumann: Andantino de Clara Wieck
From Concerto sans orchestra (Grande Sonate) in F Minor, Op. 14
Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 2
Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960
Alexander Kobrin is a powerful, confident pianist. Nothing ever sounds difficult for him, and, admirably, he commands a very wide range of dynamics from very loud (without banging) to impressively soft. Everything he does sounds carefully planned, and well thought out.
The first work he played, based on a theme by Schumann’s wife, Clara, is the third movement of what is known as the Schumann Concerto Without Orchestra. It is familiar to people who know Horowitz recordings. Starting slowly, in a ruminative manner, at other times it surged forward, and had moments when it came across as playful and spontaneous. And it featured the aformentioned excellent control of a wide dynamic range.
The Brahms Second Sonata, like the First, is relatively unknown, even among pianists, as only the Third Sonata has become an oft featured part of the “standard” repertoire. In the first movement the exposition featured power, yet also delicacy, the development was sensitive and thoughtful, and was then followed by the tumultuous recapitulation. The second movement was searching and very expressive, later becoming loud and insistent. The fascinating third movement has a forceful, yet humorous theme in B Minor, a contrasting upbeat trio section in D Major, and finally a return to the Scherzo theme, this time sounding more elaborate and triumphant. The last, remarkable movement began with a slow introduction which was followed by various themes with contrasting moods, what seemed like a witty hint at a Hungarian dance, and later a hymn – like religious sounding section and some trills, before concluding with several loud chords. Mr. Kobrin’s performance was strong and convincing throughout.
Schubert’s last Sonata is the opposite of the Brahms in that everyone knows it, plays it, has heard it many times, and compares new performances with the best versions one has already heard. Which is not surprising as it is one of the masterpieces of the literature.
There are different ways to approach the first movement, which is very long, especially if one does the repeat, as Mr. Kobrin did. A slow tempo seems to hint at profundity but sometimes adds even more “heavenly length” than is ideal, even while illuminating numerous interesting points. Indeed, Mr. Kobrin took the first theme at a very spacious tempo, though he played much of the movement very beautifully, and brought out many interesting features, such as modulations after rests. He went, without pause, into the second movement, which moved very well. His transition into the A Major section was very effective, and he caught the magical moment at the top of the last page of the movement where Schubert takes us into C major.
The third movement was fast and fleet and the B-Flat Minor trio was playful, with nice shadings, and those interesting off beat accents. The last movement began in a surprisingly slow and serious manner. The F Minor section was strong, but always featured a beautiful tone, and the conclusion was brilliantly played.
Mr. Kobrin played one encore, Der Dichter Spricht (The Poet Speaks) from Schumann’s Kinderszenen. It was very fine, lovely and thoughtful.