Arts Global

05 January 2006

Antoine Rebstein's CD for Piano Left Hand


Piano Left Hand Recital--Claves Records

One forgets that this music by Bach, Saint-Saëns, Scriabin or Schulhoff is produced by one hand only. The young pianist, forced to rest his right hand, has searched for pieces allowing him to re-invent his relation both to the piano, and to his own body, celebrating nonetheless a virtuoso and dreamlike potential realised through one piano and one hand.

A discovery of little known music and enormous willpower.

24 Heures

The Young Vaudois Pianist Issues His First CD

Music for Solo Left Hand

Paradoxically, he may never have felt so well in himself and so serene as a pianist, as now. Although deprived of the use of his right hand, which has not fully obeyed him since 2003 (all possible diagnoses have been put forward) Antoine Rebstein, 27, did not give up, and refused to break down or sink into oblivion. Among the most promising hopefuls of the new pianistic generation in Western Switzerland, he chose, following the path opened by other illustrious piano magicians such as Paul Wittgenstein or Leon Fleischer to go on playing, using only his left hand. This brought him to discover a whole repertoire of musical pieces either composed or transcribed for the left hand alone, from Bach to Scriabin. An experience, from a musical as well as an existential point of view, which led him to produce his first CD.

How do you react to the fact that you can only play with your left hand at present?

For the time being it is a rather positive experience. This is mainly due to the pleasure I have in interpreting what is, for me, new pianistic realm. Although unable to rely on my right hand, I could not but realise how important, how essential music is for me. This is why I carried on, rather than giving up, despite being advised by many people to take a long break. I now have found a new way to express myself, through turning to a repertoire for the left hand alone. It is less well known, but very rich too. It has also led me to start art history and orchestral conducting studies in Salzburg.

In August 2003 you gave your first piano recital with left hand alone at the Lucerne Festival--quite an achievement!

The recital had been fixed a long time before. Since I did not want to cancel it, I asked the organisers whether they would accept my playing a programme of pieces for left hand solo I had just discovered. They agreed, and it went very well. The pieces I played--some of them are included on the CD--are very demanding technically and musically. They enable me to show various aspects of the piano. Nowhere is it written that piano should be played with two hands!

Has your relation to the piano changed?

Yes, even though it remains for me the same instrument. I have reconsidered the piano and the music in a more spontaneous way. Today I am taking liberties I would not have allowed myself before. I favour pleasure rather than constraint and I do not practice as much.

And as far as piano technique is concerned?

Many things do change. To begin with the body position required by the use of the left hand alone. One has to sit asymmetrically, more on the right of the keyboard, to compensate for the pendulum movement exerted on the spine which is normally undertaken by the right hand. The hand technique has also to be completely reconsidered. The thumb undertakes to replace the right hand. As such, it must learn to modulate the melody, which it is not used to. It might be the most intelligent of the fingers, but also the heaviest. In order to multiply the vocal lines and fully render the polyphony of certain pieces, the pedal has more often to be used, which enables retaining a note while simultaneously looking for its accompaniment or other voices.

How about a future CD with two hands?

No. The next CD will still be for the left hand alone, but this time with orchestra. In the more distant future, I am thinking of being able to play again with both hands. In the meantime I continue to treat the right hand, although only in homeopathical doses, so as not to strain it. Of course and above all, it should not be cast aside.

Leo Bolliger


Perfect Illusion

Antoine Rebstein Recital for Piano Left Hand Alone (Claves Records)

Good can also come from mishap. From his "handicap" Antoine Rebstein has managed to extract the greatest benefit. His first CD is of a sublime beauty, a real gem worthy of general applause--not so much because of the courage shown by the young Vaudois pianist in facing adversity, as for his qualities as an interpreter.

Depth and sensitivity best qualify his playing, as in the Chaconne from the Partita No.2 by Bach, all tenderness and lyricism. The touch is masterly, and utterly refined; both intellectual and sensual, even if limited to five fingers. One often feels that two hands are at work, particularly in the extraordinary Suite No.3 by Schulhoff, or in the Six études by Saint-Saëns. The illusion is perfect, without any tricks or histrionics.

Rebstein does not cheat. He is just himself: sensitive and generous.

L. Bo.

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