Alexander Kobrin's concert Friday night at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College featured the kind of artful, sensitive playing that one hears with less and less frequency on concert stages these days. Perhaps the greatest success of this performance was his astounding tonal control-- showing complete command and mastery over every touch, from the quietest to the most dramatic-- yet never creating sounds that were harsh, ugly, or unpleasant.
Mr. Kobrin was the Gold Medal winner of the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the 1999 Busoni Competition, and received the Bronze Medal at the 2000 International Chopin Competition. Since then, he has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Moscow Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and BBC Symphony Orchestra among many others, and has had a flourishing career both as a solo artist and as a teacher.
Mr. Kobrin's first half began with what is perhaps Joseph Haydn's wittiest piano sonata, HOB. 50 in C Major. From the first few notes it was clear that the pianist was in on the joke, choosing a tempo for the opening measures that, while slower than is traditionally heard, perfectly captured the whimsy and humor of this music. Throughout the program, but perhaps most noticably in the Haydn, Kobrin allowed for great flexibility in tempi, even within the same themes or sections. Under Mr. Kobrin's guiding hands and keen senses, one found these atypical moments interesting and even elucidating. It is clear that Kobrin has an astute understanding of how far he can bend time without ever breaking it, and this malleability allowed the music's emotional intent and intellectual arguments to come across clearly.
His performances of Schubert, Chopin and Scriabin were handled with equal forethought and intellect. Vers la flamme, an exceptionally difficult work to perform convincingly, was a highlight of the second half. Here, instead of making a brittle and clangorous torrent of sounds (which has, up to this point been a hallmark of many of the performances of this piece that I've heard), Kobrin built an incredible crescendo of power-- we felt inexorably pulled from the mysterious and unknowable harmonies of the opening and towards the tremendously explosive conclusion and an emmensely satisfying end.