Yes, you can judge artist by the design of his program...
Katonah (The Spanish Courtyard at Caramoor)
Fryderyk Chopin: Ballades No. 1 in G minor, op. 23, No. 2 in F major, op. 38, No. 3 in A-flat, op. 47 & No. 4 in F minor, op. 52
Joseph Haydn: Sonatas No. 20 in B-flat, Hob.XVI:18, & No. 61 in D major, Hob.XVI:51
Roman Rabinovich: Memory Box (world premiere)
Roman Rabinovich (piano)
Hailing from Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, brought up in Israel and educated in the United States, Roman Rabinovich came to an international attention as a winner of Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel. Since that time, he carved for himself an enviable position as one of the truly remarkable young artists: a rare combination of a great piano virtuoso and a deeply thoughtful musician. His program which was one of the opening events of this summer Caramoor Music Festival proved just that: the traditionally played as a set – and never intended as such! – four Ballades of Chopin were mixed with shorter works by Haydn and Rabinovich’s own. Haydn was represented by two rarely heard two-movement works while Rabinovich’s was the world premiere of six-movement suite Memory Box.
This young pianist has been heard for almost a decade in and around New York, but his solo recitals here are not too frequent: it was thus well worth to take an hour car-ride to the Northern Westchester County to hear him at Caramoor. For those readers who are not acquainted with this summer Festival, it is one of the major places in the New York State and its location in the bucolic hills is about as attractive as they come. Summer concerts take place in the open, either at the large Venetian Theatre (which fortunately has a large tent over its audience) or Spanish Courtyard, as was the case of Mr. Rabinovich. Here a Spanish-inspired two-story structure surrounds a at rather sizeable yard which can comfortably sit several hundred music lovers who don’t mind sitting in the open and listening to the musicians who could be accompanied by the sounds of birds or loud propeller airplanes passing on their route to a nearby airport. That evening we were blessed by a beautiful summer weather which permitted us to ignore the extraneous sounds “of nature”.
In the era of “completeness” we are accustomed to hear works like Chopin Ballades or Scherzi or more often yet all of Etudes: it was a welcomed change to NOT hear all of the four ballades one after another. In the break between Ballade No. 2 and No. 3, the pianist offered us his vision for that programming decision. He aptly compared the larger in size ballades to main dishes at the banquet and shorter (Haydn, Rabinovich) to some sort of palate-cleansers. An appetizing idea, one can say. Regardless of how Mr. Rabinovich wanted to justify his means the results were most rewarding. Both of the Haydn Sonatas are rarely (in case of D Major) or never (in case of B-flat) heard. Among a several ones in that two-movement design, they are delightful and uncommonly brief.
Sonata No. 61 happens to be squeezed between two other, much larger and more serious works that consists of the trilogy of Haydn last sonatas. In spite of the elegant, rococo style, there are already ominous places in the first movement that seem look toward thematic development later cultivated by Beethoven and melodic twists foreshadowing Schubert. Finale Presto is quite quirky with uneven phrases found sometimes in his string quartets.
Haydn sonatas were always close to Rabinovich heart and mind: they often appear in his recital programs and right now this young pianist is embarking on a prodigious project of performing them all. When that happens sometimes next concert season, he will probably be the first pianist to undertake a challenge of performing the Haydn’s œuvre in a series of ten recitals in span of ten days. In many decades of attending concerts I certainly have never witnessed such a feat: if Mr. Rabinovich’s last few New York performances of Haydn Sonatas are any indication, this will be a most memorable event. There is no doubt in my mind that if there was in that music any model for Mr. Rabinovich it would have to be his mentor Sir András Schiff: I find in this younger artist a similarly lovely touch, varied articulation and perhaps more than anything else, an uncanny sense of timing so important in this composer who as almost no other was a master of that rarest art which is “humor in music”.
With all being said even more remarkable was Rabinovich’s concept of Chopin’s Ballades. Here I was reminded time and again of the great French pianist (if not necessary great human being) Alfred Cortot. First of all our soloist applied a rare today manner of an old-fashioned playing which in itself brings memories of the early 20 Century artists, for whom playing both hands together was of no great importance (read: they rarely did it). That little lack of synchronization creates a sense of spontaneity, freedom and a refreshing sense improvisation.
The other similarities with the old French master are the same captivating narration, a passion of execution, the sense of abandon in building climaxes. I don’t want to imply that Rabinovich’s Ballades sound in any way similar to those of Cortot: it just stuck me that I have not heard for a while a comparable, old-fashioned, Romantic music making. One could hardly imagine of more suggestive, evocative opening of Ballade in G minor or more dreamy first notes of Ballade in F minor, which came out as if out of nowhere. There was always some astonishing virtuosity in codas to all of those four works. Even if it was not always a note-perfect playing, just as Cortot was never note-perfect, the few smudges here or there were a small price to pay for the privilege of hearing such thrilling, sweeping and deeply felt interpretations. In them there were always impressive details, attention paid to inner voices and harmonic changes, nicely delineated and brought-out counterpoint (in Ballade in F minor) and above all beautiful melody line, vocal phrasing and luminous, singing piano sound. Several years ago, Rabinovich performed during one of his New York recitals a set of Chopin Preludes op. 28 and his interpretation stood in my mind: the present set of Ballades only further establishes this pianist’s affinity for that most elusive of composers.
Six miniatures that constitute Rabinovich latest piano composition Memory Box are inspired by emotions, a scene in real-life, works of literature or even composer’s own works of art, as he is a talented artist who sometimes exhibits his canvases at the time of a concert. Composer talked about it and described them as a set of romantic pieces in mold of Schumann/Chopin, but I found much more in common with short sets of Bartók. I particularly liked the rambunctious, vigorous Finale with its jazzy feel, but the whole set is very well written and an attractive even without being considered a “palate cleanser”.
There was only one encore, a lovely Allemande by Francois Couperin, which – to remain with culinary comparisons – was a small but exquisite dessert. Here in New York we will have to wait until the Winter to hear Mr. Rabinovich again and as often playing chamber music, a field in which he has a few equals: other readers would perhaps like to visit his website and check if he is not, by chance, performing in their area: if he is, they will be richly rewarded by attending.