In his recital at the National Gallery last night, British-born pianist Ian Hobson nobly and spectacularly demonstrated the riches to be found in the often-ignored and sometimes ridiculed piano transcription repertoire. He devoted over half of his program to a selection of transcriptions by Rachmaninoff from the works of composers as diverse as Bach, Mussorgsky and Kreisler.
Beginning with three movements from Bach's Partita in E Major for solo violin, Hobson presented an interestingly varied grouping that displayed the transcriber's imaginative sympathy for the piano's capabilities as well as his own considerable skills. From the rippling arpeggios of Schubert's "Wohin" to the plaintiveness of Tchaikovsky's "Lullaby," Hobson never lost sight of the composer's original musical intent, despite Rachmaninoff's frequently quite free elaboration of it. Most impressive of all was a lilting, colorful and sensitively phrased scherzo from Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream."
The program opened with Schumann's Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11, which, like the Rachmaninoff transcriptions, is heard too seldom, at least in a performance as convincing as Hobson's. He neatly balanced a classic approach with an intense lyricism and beauty of sound that surmounted the difficulties inherent in Schumann's structural pastiche. Even the rambling final movement had a dramatic urgency that only Hobson's intelligent musicianship and sure-fire technique could muster.