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alternatively Reference recordings


A “Hatto Original”
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Mephisto Waltz no.1 [10:54]
Grandes études de Paganini: La Campanella [04:52]
Etudes d’exécution transcendante: Harmonies du soir [09:00], Feux follets [03:32]
Sonata in b minor [30:30]
Minoru Nojima (piano)
rec. 17-18 December 1986, CA Civic Auditorium, Oxnard.

“Feux follets” was issued as the work of Joyce Hatto in some versions of “her” recording of the Transcendental Studies, from 2002 onwards, on Concert Artist/Fidelio CACD-9084-2. 

I’ve dealt with the Hattification aspect – not common to all copies of the “Hatto” – in my review of the Simon Transcendentals. So now I’ll concentrate on Nojima.

I was going to start off by saying that Nojima really does seem to be the greatest pianist practically no one has ever heard of, but I see Wikipedia has got there first. My exploration of the “Hatto originals” has led me to the discovery of an unexpected number of excellent pianists. Of all those I’ve heard so far, the one who has had me reaching for the adjective “great” is Minoru Nojima. And yes, purely on the strength of his Brahms 2 I’d have to include Ashkenazy among the merely excellent.

Before I go completely overboard and declare Nojima a great pianist I should need to hear him in several other composers, playing live if possible, and I should need to know something about his development since 1986. But I am going to declare that this is one of the great Liszt discs in the catalogue. 

In Feux follets he has that miraculous evenness of touch which gives the passage-work a life and poetry of its own, something we normally have to seek in records by the likes of Ignaz Friedman. Again in La Campanella total clarity allied to unfailing tonal beauty make for an alluring display of delicate pointillist colours. Every note seems to have its own individual voice.

At the other end of the spectrum Nojima unleashes a demoniac force in the Mephisto Waltz, without loss of clarity and without any hardening of the tone, while in the central section he is able to withdraw into a world of private meditation. Harmonies du soir rises from the gentlest of beginnings to an ecstatic climax which is actually the one moment where I find him a little over the top, with hints of conventional barnstorming virtuosity. Though László Simon is less magical at the beginning I prefer his powerful, brooding vision overall.

In the Sonata we find Nojima once again unleashing torrents of full but always clear sound, in alternation with a wonderful delicacy and exquisitely tender inner communing. He has the ability to make this latter appear parenthetical, so that the progress of the music is suspended but not halted. The overall structure is as finely grasped as are the details.

So as I said at the beginning, whatever else Nojima has done, he made a great Liszt record in 1986. Where is he now? Well, a trawl through the internet revealed that he is booked to play at the Singapore Festival on 30 June 2007. The programme is Beethoven op.101, Ravel Gaspard and Prokofiev 8. Singapore is a bit out of the way for most of us. Let’s hope he sets down a few more records.

Christopher Howell 




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