Review: Sebastian Di Bin

Russian Music
Sebastian Di Bin, piano

Rachmaninov: Six Moments Musicaux, Op 16
Tchaikovsky: Dumka, Op 59
Scriabin: Fantasia, Op 28
Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No 7, Op 83

Centaur CRC 3587 (2017)

Rachmaninov’s somewhat disingenuously titled Moments Musicaux are far removed from Schubert’s gentle miniatures; big-boned, moody and impassioned, it’s clear from the lilting opening bars of the first piece that Sebastian Di Bin is at home in this music. In performances to savour, Di Bin’s accomplished playing is sensitive and lingering in lyrical passages yet thrilling and incisive in the eruptions of virtuosity. Just listen to how skilfully the different elements are combined into a satisfying whole, like a masterly act of story telling, in the pensive No 1, the rippling No 2 or the impetuous, declamatory No 4. And the barnstorming No 6 which starts fortissimo (and seemingly could not get any louder), still manages to build in strength in Di Bin’s hands to a gloriously impressive conclusion.

Prokofiev’s audacious seventh piano sonata, one of his so-called War Sonatas, described in its day as “superbly wild” is a deliberately iconoclastic work. The first movement contains a brutal sardonic march which Di Bin executes with evident relish, skilfully balancing the percussive and rebarbative elements with skittish cheerfulness to create just the right atmosphere of menace. In complete contrast and sounding like a movement from one of Prokofiev’s ballets, the second movement is a lyrical respite which builds to a tortured climax complete with tolling bells, vividly realised by Di Bin. The final movement is a manic perpetuo mobile in 7/8 time; in Di Bin’s hands it’s a white-knuckle ride with furious, incessant rhythms and a palpable sense of danger culminating in a hair-raising climax. It’s breathtaking stuff.

Also included on this release is the Dumka Op 59 by Tchaikovsky, a poignant and charming work, played with affection and verve by Di Bin, and Scriabin’s complex and demanding Fantasy Op 28. Here Di Bin gives a stellar performance of this darkly lyrical and restless work; deeply committed and with a large expressive palette. Recommended.

Frederic Chopin: Etudes
Sebastian Di Bin, piano

12 Etudes, Op 10
12 Etudes, Op 25

Centaur CRC 3588 (2017)

After his impressive reading of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies, it’s perhaps not surprising that Sebastian Di Bin should scale another mountain peak of the piano literature, the two sets of Chopin studies, Op 10 and Op 25. These ground-breaking works with their numerous technical and interpretative challenges have become a calling card for pianists and act as a sort of litmus test for the performer’s own temperament, the danger being that the pieces become meretricious salon pieces, played for effect. In Di Bin’s consummate hands however there are no such worries. His playing is technically assured, subtle, elegant and unobtrusive; there is no attempt here to impose a character on the music and his admirably restrained and poetic performances sound all the better for it.

A good example of his approach is in the opening C major arpeggio study of the Op 10 set. Glittering and well-articulated, it gains its power from its restraint rather than an impetuous speed. The same is true for the breakneck No 4 and sparkling No 5 (Black Keys), the latter having a spring in its step rather than a dash. There is an amiable bustle to No 7 and fine filigree over a drone like base in No 8. With the famous Revolutionary study, his restraint gives the work a heroic grandeur: controlled, sustained but with an emotional punch.

Elsewhere, in the Op 25 set, plenty of delights are to be had. Nos 3 and 9 (“Butterfly”) have an un-rushed and amiable bounce, cleanly articulated; No 4 is clean, assured with plenty of bite; the double-thirds in No 6 are fluid and seem to float over the keyboard; and No 8 is confident and playful. Particularly impressive is the sustained control of mood in the mournful No 7 (“Cello”), the left hand flourishes seamlessly woven into the soundscape, and the ferociously difficult No 11 which erupts in terrifying fashion, propelled by an inexorable logic. And with the powerful octave study No 10, the virtuosity always feels subservient to the drama. A personal favourite is the closing tragic No 12. I was mesmerised by the cleanly articulated arpeggios, the assured pace (not fast or showy); it had a noble almost stoic quality to it, a fitting close to these eloquent performances.