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.
by Christopher Howell
RECORDING OF THE MONTH in April