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Antoine Rebstein Piano Left Hand Recital

BACH/BRAHMS Chaconne
SAINT-SAËNS 6 Studies, op. 135
LIPATTI Sonatina
SCRIABIN Prelude op. 9 no.1 in C sharp minor; Nocturne op.9 no. 2, in D flat major
SCHULHOFF Suite, no. 3
STRAUSS II/GODOWSKY Symphonic Metamorphoses of the Schatz-Walzer - Themes from the Gypsy Baron

CLAVES 50-2502 [May 2005: 79 mins]

To write piano music only for the left hand is wilfully to discard the instrument's advantages of comprehensive range; no surprise, then that most of these pieces have a peculiar history Lipatti's (winning) composition was occasioned by lack of manuscript paper, for example, Brahms' as a present for Clara Schumann when she was suffering from tendonitis, Scriabin's when he injured his right thumb.

 

The doyen of left-handed pianists was of course Paul Wittgenstein, brother to the philosopher Ludwig (who used to complain he had to run out of the house to escape Paul's practising.) Paul lost his right arm in the First World War at the age of 26, but was able to continue his career with the help of commissions such as the Ravel concerto for left hand. Wittgenstein was in fact the dedicatee of the Godowsky Strauss arrangement, although he never performed it.

 

A record by a contemporary left-hand pianist allows interesting comments on the physiological aspects of playing with one arm, in terms of balance and muscular command, while at the same time showing how composers squared the circle of writing for only half the usual resources of the keyboard. In the touching liner interview, Rebstein comes across as humane and positive in response to his disability.

 

It is also interesting to see that composers looked naturally to the relatively transparent textures of baroque keyboard music as the best vehicle for one-handed music. Both the Saint-Saens and the Schulhoff do so consciously, the latter is heavily reminiscent of the Debussy Suite Bergamasque.

 

Brahms wrote a number of piano exercises and transcriptions; this is a predictably expert arrangement of the famous solo Chaconne. Having heard Grigory Sokolov play the Chaconne live in the Wigmore, I have to say that Rebstein is not as intense or searching, although his account has great lyrical sensitivity. Rebstein's cantabile playing (he speaks in the interview of needing to train the left thumb to sustain a melodic line) is impressive the middle of the Bach-Brahms is especially attractive in this respect.

 

I am disappointed to find my main criticism of both music and performance is so banal - technically, one hand does not equal two. Rebstein's leaps sound strained (one could not imagine that with say - a Cziffra performance); textures and colours are always well thought out, but can become monotonous. What one piece might disguise as an inevitable thinness of writing cannot be hidden over the span of a whole, well-filled disc.

 

This is a disc that makes a virtue out of necessity. The recorded quality is outstandingly clear, visual production is excellent, with the notes of significant interest, as is the repertoire.

 

Within its obvious limitations, it is a great success. A must for all followers of left-handed music.

 

© Ying Chang