Notes and Editorial Reviews
Rondo in c,
Polonaises: in B?,
Introduction and Variations on “Der Schweizerbub.”
Nocturne in e,
Variations in A,
“Souvenir de Paganini.”
Mazurkas: in D,
“à la mazur”
Ian Hobson (pn)
ZEPHYR 132 (68:22)
Piano Sonata No. 1 in c.
Rondo in C,
Contredanse in G?,
Waltzes: in A?,
Variations on “Là ci darem la mano”
Ian Hobson (pn)
ZEPHYR 133 (75:29)
I first came across the name of Ian Hobson while watching a telecast of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1981. Hobson was the winner, with Wolfgang Manz second. Bernard d’Ascoli and Louis Lortie were also amongst the prize winners and Peter Donohoe (soon to be triumphant in Moscow) placed a lowly sixth. Soon thereafter came a “Classics for Pleasure” LP of Rachmaninoff played by Hobson, and the one and only time I heard him live in the U.K. (Tchaikovsky First with the Hallé Orchestra).
Complete Chopin cycles are relatively rare. Arrau recorded one, as did Ohlsson and Idil Beret. Ian Hobson here gives us the first two volumes of his projected cycle. Hobson begins at the beginning with an album entitled, “Awakening,” and begins in the logical place, with Chopin’s op. 1 of 1825, the C-Minor Rondo. The opening of this piece does not bode well in compositional terms. Pedestrian in the extreme, the faster-moving contrastive passage comes as something of a relief. The melodic line flows easily, with genuine elegance, and Hobson’s fingerwork sparkles most alluringly.
The first disc concentrates on what the booklet describes as “years of learning at home” (1816–23) and “secondary school years” (1823–26). Certainly the first Polonaise we hear (identified in the notes by no fewer than three catalog designations: B 3, KK IVa/1, and CT160), written in 1817, is charming and, when we work out the composer’s age, somewhat miraculous. (If we discount the last fact, it becomes a little less so.) The second work we hear, the G-Minor Polonaise (B1, KKIIa/1, CT161), although composed at around the same time, is significantly more progressive in emotional terms. Hobson’s jewel-like articulation in the treble register helps considerably, as does the attractive manner in which he spreads chords. The A? Polonaise contains more fantasy, a sense of exploration that seems to extend into the G?-Minor piece. Chopin quotes Rossini in the Trio of the B?-Minor (“Vieni fra questa braccia” from
La gazza ladra
). This seems the most emotionally advanced of the polonaises
Introduction and Variations on “Der Schweizerbub”
is the best-known work so far. It is delightful. The Tyrolean song on which it is based (
The Cattle Boy
) clearly inspired Chopin in its artful simplicity. Hobson is up against significant competition here in the form of Paolo Bordoni on an EMI Gemini release (71472; see also my review of Bordoni’s lovely recording of Schubert Waltzes in
30:1). Hobson holds his own, though, his clean fingerwork contributing much to one’s enjoyment. Bordoni is closest to the work’s spirit, though.
Hobson is far more convincing in the E-Minor Nocturne of 1827 (not published until 1855), his shadings of the melody invoking the spirit of evening fantasy well. The
take us back to a more frivolous manner before the first edition of the C-Minor
(1826–27). This is a tender funeral march (as opposed to the “black” one in the Second Sonata).
The “Souvenir de Paganini” is a set of variations on the famous tune,
Carnival of Venice
. The booklet notes to this release rightly connect the rocking bass and the ever more decorative right-hand to the later Berceuse. Hobson ends with a tribute to the mazurka. The early D-Major pales in comparison to the far better known A-Minor, op. 68/2, the latter shaded exquisitely by Hobson. The remaining two slight mazurkas are absolutely charming. Which only leaves, for Volume 1, the Rondo, “à la Mazur,” an extended (8:23) piece whose
-Polish exuberance finds a worthy advocate in Hobson.
The second volume (entitled “Hats off”) opens with a performance of the neglected First Sonata. This volume’s remit is to cover the brilliant and early Romantic style. The First Sonata was not published until 1851. It deserves more hearings than it gets, but it sits in the shade of its two brothers, both of which are masterpieces beyond dispute. Here, Chopin begins to spread his wings. There is a sense of space to the monothematic first movement, well presented here by Hobson. The second movement, a minuet in E?, includes some gestures that are entirely Chopin in their elegance. The lyrical slow movement provides the best of this Sonata, and Hobson gives a lovely account of it. He cannot disguise the padding inherent in the finale, but this remains an enjoyable reading.
The early op. 71
(published in 1955) are deliciously delivered; Hobson seems remarkably at home in this type of miniature. The second, in particular, is delightful. The final, F-Minor piece is shot through with nostalgia. The C-Major Rondo of 1828 is markedly more exploratory in nature. It exists (and is better known in) a two piano version, but it works well as a solo. Hobson is gentle with the texture, seeing delicacy as at the heart here. A little spray of dances, each lovingly handled, separates the Rondo from the Mozart Variations. Perhaps of the dances, the Contredanse is the most pure and inviting. The E? Waltz is identified as “doubtful” in the booklet notes; its joy seems, indeed, more Schubertian. The Mozart Variations of 1827 (op. 2) is far more familiar, of course. Hobson seems totally at home in the decorative writing here, relishing Chopin’s varied explorations before the arrival of the theme (over four minutes into the piece). Hobson’s sense of the dramatic ensures the piece exerts a powerful spell while highlighting the more disjunct, progressive aspects of the score.
Musically, then, there is much to admire here. The recordings, engineered by Lech Dudzik and Garbriela Blicharz, are laudably clean and generally bright (perhaps a touch more depth would have been ideal). The booklets are less good, however. Apart from the occasional typo, Ate? Orga’s notes are characteristic of that author in that they are florid and overuse quotation.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
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