Ian Hobson will perform a streamed recital co-presented by SubCulture NYC, Florida State University, and Sinfonia da Camera this Wednesday, July 22nd, 5:00 p.m. EDT. Here is the program:
Mendelssohn – Andante and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14
Beethoven – Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 31 No. 3
Chopin – Scherzo in E Major, Op. 54
Schumann – Papillons, Op. 2
Kreisler/Rachmaninoff – Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy)
The stream will go live on Subculture NYC’s Vimeo on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020, at 5:00 p.m. EDT (4:00 p.m. CDT, 3:00 p.m. MDT, 2:00 p.m. PDT, 10:00 p.m. UK, and 11:00 p.m. Europe).
In sketching out what to expect from this varied program, centered in Romanticism, but including a classical precursor and a glimpse of its final flowering in the early twentieth century, one can do no better than to quote his own off-the-cuff remarks about the works and his relationship to them.
Mendelssohn is the greatest child prodigy in musical history. His rondo capriccioso was written when he was 14 and remains one his most charming works. The andante which precedes it was added five years later. I was in my mid-20s when I first heard it.
I have studied and played the Beethoven Sonata, Chopin Scherzo, and Rachmaninov transcriptions since my mid-teens. The Beethoven is a sunny and optimistic work, totally different from the “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2, written at the same time—a time of great sadness for Beethoven and increasing deafness. Op. 31. No. 3 starts with a quizzical chord and has many surprises—the second movement is a scherzo in 2/4 time, the third a stately minuet and the fourth a fiery chase.
Chopin’s 4th scherzo is the only one in a major key. The harmonies are quite new and exhilarating as are the cascades of scales and arpeggios. I think this piece became the initial inspiration for Liszt’s experiments after Chopin’s death.
Rachmaninov’s duo playing with the great violinist Fritz Kreisler gave rise to his complex and symphonic takes on the two simple waltzes of the original violin miniatures. They are extremely difficult to play but really contain the best of Rachmaninov’s piano writing.
Schumann’s Papillons is a musical depiction of the masked ball—a collection of waltzes and polonaises inspired by Schubert’s four-hand music and Jean Paul’ s fantastic novels. It begins with a reference to Weber’s most popular work “Invitation to the Dance.” I look forward to playing it at my next Schumann series concert at Subculture.
This last sentence is particularly encouraging, since it indicates that Mr. Hobson will resume the Schumann cycle he began so successfully at SubCulture in February with a recital entitled “Fantasy Pieces.” Characteristically focusing on the composer’s work and its creative foci, he paired the familiar Fantasiestücke Op. 12 (1837) with the less often played late Fantasiestücke Op. 111 of 1851, concluding with a powerful but clear reading of the Fantasia in C, Op. 17 (1836), one of the pillars of the repertory. Hobson’s dedication to the composer’s work extends from his programming to his playing, which consistently, without fail, serves the composer’s score. All too often, especially among the big names, a solo recital is an exercise in showing off a performer’s signature style of playing, with basic repertoire functioning as mere armature for the display. In Schumann’s piano music, it is essential to maintain clarity in the inner voices and to capture their contrapuntal interrelationships. All too often pianists pedal them into vague textural or coloristic effects, which is a travesty. You can count on Hobson to respect the composer’s writing in all its complexity. HHe plays the music, and that is why I rarely miss an opportunity to hear him play.
Another of Hobson’s programming methods is to combine works for piano solo with chamber music, as he did in his ambitious Brahms cycle of 2013. After a second program, which will include the Papillons Op. 2 (1829-31), and the perennial favorite, Carnaval Op. 9 (1834-39), the series will come to an end with a program entirely devoted to Schumann’s chamber music, with works for horn, oboe, clarinet, viola, cello, and piano. This will give New Yorkers an opportunity to hear once again the playing of some of the superb musicians who appeared in the earlier Brahms cycle: Bernhard Scully, horn; J. David Harris, clarinet; Csaba Erdélyi, viola; and Dmitry Kouzov, cello.
Some significant consolation for the interruption of his Schumann series has come to Mr. Hobson in the Diapason d’Or Discovery award for his work as a conductor. As chief guest conductor of the Sinfonia Varsovia he has led the very first recording of Moritz Moszkowski’s elaborate tone poem/symphony, Johanna d’Arc, Op. 19 (1875-76). This four-movement work recounts the largely invented version of Friedrich Schiller, told in his Die Jungfrau von Orléans, in four movements, almost exactly as long, depending on variations in performance, as Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. The 23 minutes of its first movement are truly Brucknerian in extent, although not in character. Moszkowski is clearly telling a story and creating a mood of time and place, albeit within a symphonic structure. One of the more impressive characteristics of the work is the composer’s skill in balancing the two forms. Although it was published as a tone poem, Moszkowski informally called it “my symphony.”
Moszkowski (1854-1925) will have been a familiar name to Ian Hobson from childhood, since the short piano pieces which were Moszkowski’s bread and butter—or more accurately his caviar and foie gras—were an indispensible part of the training of amateur and professional pianists since his own lifetime. The more challenging and colorful of them were favorite encores on the concert stage. His more extended works—concerti, tone poems, and an opera—have been totally forgotten. He was born into a wealthy Polish-Jewish family in a town near Katowice, who subsequently moved to Breslau (Wrocław), Dresden, and Berlin, where the young musician was able to study with distinguished teachers. A career as a keyboard virtuoso was curtailed by a neuropathic ailment, forcing Moszkowski to concentrate on composing and teaching, and he was extremely successful in both. As his career reached its peak in 1897, he moved to Paris and continued his success for a few years, but in the new century his music fell out of favor, and the demand for his instruction declined. He responded by becoming a recluse. The economic aftermath of World War I ruined him, and he lived on in dire poverty, supported only by collections and benefit concerts sponsored by his pupils, including Josef Hofmann, until his death in 1925.
Johanna d’Arc premiered during Moszkowski’s first visit to London in 1885 and was well-received. It enjoyed a number of performances in major centers from New York to St. Petersburg, and then it was forgotten. Some critics complained about its length, but in listening to this recording it hardly seems padded, long-winded, or boring. The composer’s keen ear for orchestral timbre and range enlivens its colors and helps tell the story, beginning with Joan’s childhood in rural surroundings. In Schiller’s version, the most popular in the 19th century, she enjoys a sweet, innocent childhood, is moved on to greater things by a vision, and fights for her country in battle. As she prepares to kill a fallen Englishman, she sees his face, falls in love, and lets him escape. She is imprisoned for treason, miraculously escapes, and redeems herself on the battlefield, turning the tide in favor of the French until she herself is killed. The final movement ends with an apotheosis. This attractive and absorbing work shows Mendelssohnian origins in the background, with direct influence from Joachim Raff, and even traces of early and mature Wagner. Those who enjoy the music of Bruch an Goldmark will feel immediately at home in Moszkowski’s idiom.
Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsaviana give the work a sympathetic, detailed performance, especially sensitive to its lyrical and stately qualities. Hobson generally favors a steady, broad pace and open textures—well-recorded in a nicely balanced, resonant hall—which lets the specific beauties of harmony and development shine through. He carefully avoids pushing the tempi and gives his soloists—the winds as well as the eloqent violin soloist, Jakub Haufa—plenty of space to sing and phrase in a way which approaches chamber music, although the score calls for a large orchestra. Hobson’s natural, unaffected loyalty to the score reminds me of István Kertész’s open textures and unforced tempi, which introduced so many non-Czechs to Dvořák’s tone poems and earlier symphonies.
Johanna d’Arc: Symphonic Poem in Four Movements, Op. 19 (1875–76)
I Allegro commodo
II Andante malinconico
III Molto moderato
IV Allegro molto
Jakub Haufa, solo violin
Ian Hobson, conductor
Toccata Classics, London