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Hobson versus Brahms at DiMenna Center

by Angela Sutton


Pianist Ian Hobson continued his two-month examination of Brahms at the DiMenna Center on Thursday night before an audience of avid connoisseurs, with the pianist showing a fine sense of musical structure—both sequential (in developing relationships between consecutive sections) and simultaneous (in his weighting of concurrent lines) throughout. When Hobson exhibited an equal care for the piano's sensual qualities, the results were magical, although this sense of finesse was not always present.

The Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Op. 9, opened the program—a work that dramatically recasts Schumann's melody in a wide array of textures, rather than simply using the older technique of rhythmic development. Hobson expertly unpeeled the variations' layers, with extremely moving results, particularly in the fluttering central ninth and tenth variations. His elegant treatment of the Finale, with its sudden turn to just a few scraps of harmony, powerfully brought forward Op. 9's sense of submerged melancholy—the composer's response to his early mentor Schumann's contemporaneous commitment to an asylum.

Hobson followed the variations with the Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, from 1879. These stormy works are a halfway house between the big compositions of the 1850s and the stream of miniatures Brahms composed during his final years. That these pieces are, in fact, mini-sonatas was made evident in Hobson's performance, but here he sacrificed sound quality for speed, reulting in jagged and rhythmically awkward moments.

The Sonata No. 3, Op. 5, occupied the whole of the program's second half; this is one of the longest sonatas in the standard repertoire, requiring both focus and a healthy dose of sang froid to adequately deliver. Thursday's heroic performance succeeded in negotiating its many hazards, with a number of remarkable touches. The sonata's orchestral qualities came through in the third and fifth movements very clearly; one could hear the echo of a symphony behind them. The luxurious second movement—a night scene by a lake—was, again, too fast, but did show up its melodic relationship to Beethoven's Op. 109.

After well-deserved applause, Mr. Hobson gave a diaphanous reading of Chopin's Etude Op. 25/1 as an encore—a welcome contrast to the thunderous Brahms works.

Ian Hobson's Brahms series continues at the DiMenna Center on Tuesday, October 1, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets available via Brown Paper Tickets.