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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Mephisto Waltz No.1 [10:54]
Grandes études de Paganini: La Campanella [4:52]
Etudes d’exécution transcendante: Harmonies du soir [09:00], Feux follets [03:32]
Sonata in B minor (1853) [30:30]
Minoru Nojima (piano)
rec. 17-18 December 1986, CA Civic Auditorium, Oxnard.

This is an outstanding performance of the Liszt sonata, one of the most musically acute, tonally complex and structurally perceptive recordings I have heard in many years. It was recorded back in 1986. There is a certain glumness in his opening statement but this merely launches a performance that mines the fullest range of expressive contrast from the work and that presents it – for once – as a coherent narrative shorn of artifice or bombast. Not that Nojima is lacking in heft or dynamism – most certainly he is not – but the overriding principles governing this performance are entirely musical ones.

His powerful chording, his intensity and grandeur are corralled by leonine control. He seems technically to be equipped with every means at his disposal to convey the myriad nuances of which he is capable. His playing is not in itself especially fast so the power and excitement of his playing does not reside merely in matters of speed – the contrasts and intimacy he brings to bear are the cornerstones to his playing and on the evidence of this performance and this disc, truly great Liszt playing at that. His control of touch and texture is remarkable; his legato playing is highly and richly descriptive; furthermore the daring elasticity of some of his phrasing proves to be entirely warranted by virtue of the narrative suggestibility he evokes. The finesse of his touch is a corollary of the exceptional levels of tone he produces. He never forces through the tone. And the tension of this playing is palpable; and the “timing” of the flourishes are intensely powerful. Everything about the performance seems right and it’s one of those rare performances that, for its length, one can’t imagine being better done.

I mean this as no disrespect to Nojima, or indeed to Liszt, when I say that I view the rest of the programme more as ancillary evidence as to Nojima’s august status as a Liszt player. Everything that is outstanding in the Sonata is faithfully mirrored in these performances. The Mephisto Waltz is galvanizing without ever becoming brutal – the balance of the reflective and the assertive is held in perfect equipoise. And Feux follets is a prime example of the delicacy, the sensitivity and the poetry of his playing. In fact these qualities apply throughout the entirety of this disc – one that demonstrates that Nojima’s status as a Lisztian of the highest possible standing is richly deserved.

Jonathan Woolf 

see also Review by Christopher Howell RECORDING OF THE MONTH in April




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