was thrilled by Minoru
Nojima’s Liszt recital. Word has got round that Nojima is
a great pianist who got lost, partly of his own choice since he
prefers to limit his appearances to smaller Asian centres. He
has refused to make any further records after these two set down
about two decades ago for Reference Recordings. I made the point
that I would need to hear him in a range of music to be sure whether
he is a great pianist, but he had undoubtedly made a great Liszt
his “other” disc makes his slender reputation more understandable.
From the start, “Noctuelles”, the first of “Miroirs”, created
a somewhat confused impression and it seemed too tangible. A
little way further on we have a passage marked “espressivo”
but also “piano” and Nojima pitches in at a full forte. Generally
speaking any crescendo, any marking from “mezzo forte” upwards
and, especially, anything like “très espressif” inspires him
to playing of such heavy-toned insensitivity that it is quite
painful to hear.
same thing happens at innumerable points in “Oiseaux tristes”
and, in “Une barque sur l’Océan”, why the hard accent on the
second quaver in each bar of the repeated wave-motif? This ocean
is soon roiling away like a tsunami and Nojima’s thunderous
“très espressif” – marked “mezzo piano” – in the slower chordal
theme has to be heard to be believed.
del gracioso”, though, gets a very fine performance indeed.
The tempo is quite steady and there is an infectious, swaggering
rhythm. The repeated notes are beautifully clear. The central
section is long-drawn but the softer dynamics are properly realized
at last. This is the one performance which would make me want
to keep the disc. The bass notes of the piano are badly out
of tune in this piece.
of “La vallée des cloches” is very beautiful, with just occasional
relapses into playing that is too loud. A moment like the drastic
shortening of the single low E towards the end – written a dotted
half-note but hardly allowed to sound for a fourth-note – betrays
a certain superficiality of approach.
de la Nuit” will perhaps stand up better to rough treatment.
The opening of “Ondine”, if not triple piano as requested, might
be described at least as piano, and the piece is not ineffective
when sung out with a sort of Rachmaninovian sweep. Likewise
“Le gibet”, fuller-toned than we usually hear, has a certain
grandeur. “Scarbo” is limited by the lack of really soft playing.
It sounds more violent than menacing.
around for comparisons it occurred to me how many heavy-handed
Ravel pianists there seem to be. I told myself at first that
I wouldn’t get out Gieseking but in the end I had to. Pure magic,
the dynamics perfectly observed, flexible, poised, poetic playing
with a translucency of sound that speaks across half a century
in spite of the elderly recording quality.
this is a great pity. If we have to know Nojima by only two
discs, I just wish the second had been more Liszt, or at least
something to which he is better suited.