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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Moments Musicaux, Op. 16 (1896) [29:55]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Dumka, in C minor Op. 59 (1886) [8:59]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Fantasia, in B minor Op. 28 (1900) [10:09]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1954)
Piano Sonata No. 7, in B-flat major, Op. 83 (1939-42) [18:36]
Sebastian Di Bin (piano)
rec. Chiesa Di S. Apollinaire Lonigo, Vicenza, 2016
CENTAUR CRC3587 [67:42]

Italian pianist Sebastian Di Bin (b. 1981 in Udine) has won numerous prizes and awards at a string of important international piano competitions and has performed at major concert venues throughout Italy, elsewhere in Europe and the USA. This is his third recording for the American label Centaur, the first two being discs of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes and the Chopin Etudes, Opp. 10 & 25. It’s easy to see why Centaur is investing considerable resources in Di Bin: he has a formidable technique, fine interpretive instincts in a broad range of repertory and an imposing bigness of tone that sets him apart from most other pianists. This latter quality is not necessarily a positive factor, but Di Bin makes it work in his favour most of the time.

His Rachmaninov Moments Musicaux is generally quite animated and bold, its heart-on-sleeve character more muscular and straightforward than is usual, with the tears and longing held back, and the moments of ecstasy, joy and energy italicized. Di Bin’s tendency to favor the forte side of his dynamic range tends to give the more intimate music a bit less sadness and somewhat more passion and agitation. This quality makes him more effective in pieces like #4, the E minor Presto, which comes across effectively as restless and driven. Some pieces in the set, like #5 (Adagio sostenuto) may sound a little mechanical, but the pianist compensates with a stateliness and greater sense of tension and colour. The grandiose #6, the C major Maestoso, is a reasonably good fit for Di Bin’s bold style, though I do wish he’d vary the dynamics in the running left hand accompaniment to the main theme a bit more. Still, this is a good performance.

The Tchaikovsky Dumka is not a subtle piece and thus Di Bin’s rather straightforward but bold approach suits its playful and colorful character quite well. Scriabin is another matter: the fire and passion come through with impact, but whatever mystical qualities one might hear in this work are blunted somewhat by the pianist’s tendency towards a more extroverted and bigger approach.

The Prokofiev Seventh, in its umpteenth recording here, sounds big but a bit heavy-handed in the first movement opening, while the alternate theme lacks mystery and subtlety. The development section takes off nicely and the recapitulation is quite effective. The second movement is well played and shaped, though the tempo is a bit pushy: some of the better recordings of it last over seven minutes compared with Di Bin’s fleet 5:47. The finale is quite convincing, as Di Bin doesn’t fall victim to the common tendency to rush things, pound and hope the fingers hit the right keys. In fact, this may be his finest moment on the disc, as the headlong rush of notes is clearly played and a true sense of excitement is worked up to achieve absolute and crushing triumph.

So there you have it: this is a mixed bag, one that is mostly quite fine though, and consistently different. The sound reproduction is a bit too reverberant and the piano used here, a Borgato Concert Grand (1,282), sounds all right but not quite on the level of a good Steinway. Di Bin is obviously a talent to watch, a pianist whom keyboard and Russian music enthusiasts should find of considerable appeal. Recommended, if you can tolerate a few but hardly fatal flaws.

Robert Cummings



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