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Antoine Rebstein Piano Left Hand Recital
Johann Sebastian BACH
(1685-1750)/Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Chaconne from the partita no. 2 in D minor for solo violin (1877) [15:08]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) 6 Studies, op. 135 (1912) [19:27]
Dinu LIPATTI (1917-1950) Sonatina (1941) [9:12]
Alexandre SCRIABIN (1872-1915) Prelude op. 9 no.1 in C sharp minor [2:33], Nocturne op.9 no. 2, in D flat major (1894-5) [5:56]
Ervín SCHULHOFF (1894-1942) Suite, no. 3 (1926) [15:55]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899), L. GODOWSKY (1870-1938) Symphonic Metamorphoses of the Schatz-Walzer - Themes from the Gypsy Baron (1928?) [11:23]
Antoine Rebstein (piano)
rec. La Chaux-de Fonds (Switzerland), Salle de Musique, 5-8 May 2005.
CLAVES 50-2502 [79:09]
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Antoine Rebstein is a young concert pianist who, as the result of an ailing right hand, has been forced to re-invent himself as a performer of works for the left hand alone. Approaching what for many would be the end of a career as a "rebirth", Rebstein describes his newly discovered repertoire as containing ‘jewels that I never expected to exist.’ The booklet also interestingly goes into some of the technical demands of left-handed pianism. ‘It’s necessary to teach the thumb to sing’ says Rebstein, and this, added to the lack of the balance which is normally provided by the right hand which adds to the difficulty of performing such works, which are usually written with the aim of sounding like pieces for two hands.

Starting with the Bach Chaconne, one of the most demanding pieces for any instrument - I once recorded a version for flute, and lost nearly half a stone in the attempt - Rebstein lays his cards out very challengingly from the start. We all know the Busoni version, but Brahms’s left hand arrangement has been a discovery for me. It follows the original quite faithfully in structure and dynamics, and is of course closer to the violin version than Busoni’s, with the spreading of chords and violinistic leaps well suited to single-handed piano performance. Once one has cleared ones head of the expected extremes of drama and bombast in the Busoni, this lighter version wins in musicality what the other gains in sheer pianistic virtuosity. Rebstein plays his Bach in clear and unforced terms – no ‘Beast with Five Fingers’ melodramatic nightmares here!

Saint-Saëns’ Studies op. 135 lead on well from the Bach, with many of the pieces making use of Baroque style counterpoint and dance titles such as Bourée and Gigue. With the extended, romantic Elégie as an exception, most of these pieces are fairly light musically, if, as might be expected from a set of Studies, fairly demanding in technical terms. Rebstein’s playing is effortless throughout, and the following Sonatina is another technical showcase. Most will be aware of Dinu Lipatti as a brilliant and tragically short-lived pianist, but he composed with equal ease. This piece was written for one hand due to a lack of music paper at his parent’s isolated home during the summer of 1941. A charming Andante espressivo is framed by two Allegro movements, the first developing from rolling, moto-perpetuo notes rising from the bass, the second possessing a quirky Gallic character.

Scriabin’s works for left hand have their origins in the kind of silly student challenge which seem to have been a feature of Russian musical education; Richter told of similar escapades. Having damaged his right thumb while trying to study Liszt’s Reminiscences of Don Juan in the shortest possible time, he consoled himself by writing an elegiac and introverted Prelude, and, no doubt warming to the task, the more powerfully conceived Nocturne, which recalls Lisztian pianistic heroism mixed with the melancholic meditative style familiar in Scriabin’s early style.

Taking us beyond the Russian soul-searching of Scriabin, Schulhoff’s Suite more immediately recalls the perfumed romanticism of Debussy in its opening Preludio. A plangent Air is followed by a fearsome Zingara which resonates with a percussive Bartokian folk-flavour. The Improvisatione is ethereal and enigmatic, leaving us much profundity on which to ponder, and the Finale returns us to Debussian territory, almost, but not quite breaking into a gruff Cakewalk.

Godowsky’s Symphonic Metamorphoses provide a fitting conclusion to this well-filled disc, it’s exploration of Strauss’s famous waltz being every bit as demanding as the Bach over its extended duration.

This is an immensely enjoyable recital disc. Antoine Rebstein succeeds in making us forget that his performances are single-handed. With graceful pianism and musicianship he guides us through a well thought-out programme of interesting and substantial repertoire, unlikely to find much duplication in most libraries. The recording, as you might expect from the now not unfamiliar Salle de Musique in La Chaux-de-Fonds, is gorgeously detailed and resonant – both atmospheric and analytical at the same time. I warmly recommend this issue to collectors of piano CDs, Hi-Fi buffs and explorers of new repertoire alike.

Dominy Clements



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