Konstantin Rybakov has the potential to be a fine violinist. His playing is strong and sweet but lacks the mastery of character and depth that may come with experience, which marks the difference between a silver medalist and the person at the top of the podium. His intonation was at times inconsistent, and his heavy vibrato wasn’t necessarily suited to some of the delicate music he chose. Rybakov and pianist Constantine Finehouse presented a program of French music on May 30th in the beautiful Gordon Chapel of Old South Church.
The program opened with Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The performance was pretty, but unremarkable. This may have been due to nerves, but even in such a tiny piece, there is plenty of emotional depth to discover; you could hear the music asking for it, but Rybakov failed to deliver. And Henri Vieuxtemps’s Rondino could have benefited from less time in the practice room and more time flirting in a café with can-can girls…. It is a beast of a piece, technically, but the music begged for a saucy interpretation. To his credit, Rybakov dispatched the trills and rills with aplomb, no small feat. It was technically right on target, but if he can bring it to the next level emotionally, he will really have something to say.
Rybakov finally showed his potential to great advantage in Ravel’s Sonata for Violin & Piano. Here he was able to vary the color of his playing and brought a greater sense of understanding to his interpretation. When Ravel was writing this work, over the years 1923 to 1927, he already had met George Gershwin, and it is tempting to hear some of the French composer’s impressions of “American” music in this work, while it remains quintessentially French. The middle movement, “Blues (Moderato)” in particular owes much to the blues/jazz that was so popular at the time. The movement opens with strummed pizzicato, perhaps Ravel’s homage to a riverboat banjo player. The violin part had some interesting, alternating right- and left-hand pizzicati as well. The third movement, “Perpetuum mobile,” was played with concentration and skill and major chops. Both Rybakov and Finehouse seemed at home in this work.
After a brief intermission, the duo played the Franck Sonata. Rybakov’s vibrato “worked” here, as the piece has a more romantic quality than the more impressionistic, bluesy Ravel. In the second movement, Allegro, the two musicians created a real sense of operatic dialogue between violin and piano; and the very romantic, almost harp-like gestures in the piano of the third movement, Recitativo – Fantasia (Moderato), were very capably played by Finehouse. Overall, there were times when the balance between piano and violin was a bit shaky, with the piano tending to overpower the violin, but whether this was due to the acoustics of the hall or the strength of Finehouse’s playing was hard to say. Finehouse was generally a very able accompanist. The last movement, Allegretto poco mosso, had a very springlike theme, and concluded the concert in grand style.
Overall, Rybakov is a player to watch.