Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.18 (1900/01) [34:29]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebestraum No.3 (1850) [04:09]
Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (1856/61) [11:10]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1847) [09:59]
Nobuyuki Tsujii (piano)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Yutaka Sado (Rachmaninov)
rec. 16-17 May 2008, Telex Studio, Berlin, Germany (Rachmaninov); 17-19 January 2007, Salamanca Hall, Japan (Liszt).
Japan-born pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii was Gold Medallist at the 13th Van Cliburn Piano Competition in 2009 where he tied with Haochen Zhang for first prize. I was sorry to miss Tsujii’s recent Manchester Bridgewater Hall performance with the BBC Philharmonic. A few days later it was some degree of compensation that Tsujii’s new release arrived through the letter-box.
For this release on Challenge Classics Tsujii has chosen both a Rachmaninov concerto recorded in Berlin and a Liszt recital programme recorded in Japan. The predictably safe repertoire selection consists of music of the highest quality and Tsujii has responded with one of the most enjoyable solo piano recitals that I have heard for some time.
Sitting tight at number two in the Classic FM Hall of Fame for 2010 Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor has demonstrated an enduring appeal. Itwas written following an extremely difficult time for the composer. In 1900 Rachmaninov, who had more than likely experienced a nervous breakdown, commenced therapy with the eminent physician Dr. Nikolai Dahl. It wasn’t long before, rejuvenated, he began work on the Piano Concerto No.2 and the score was premièred with the composer at the piano in October 1901. 

In the opening Moderato the main theme at 0:37, initially heard on the strings, is performed with impressive ardour. The more feminine second theme at 2:42 is tenderly and lovingly played. Contentment and allure is the mood that pervades the Adagio Sostenuto and this is quite beautifully conveyed by Tsujii. There is a sense of carefree exhilaration in the Finale that just radiates confidence. Yutaka Sado gives an affectionate and sympathetic reading with the first class DSO Berlin. I was struck by the glorious timbre and unity of the strings heard throughout the concerto. The Berlin brass is in splendid form with the horns particularly impressive.
Rachmaninov and Liszt were both admired as amongst the finest virtuosos of their time. If Rachmaninov was a conservative Liszt by contrast was a progressive who according to biographer Cecil Gray created, “some of the greatest and most original masterpieces of the nineteenth century.” Liszt was ultra-prolific, producing over seven hundred scores covering most genres of which over half were piano compositions. From this huge output Tsujii has chosen three works that are among the most commonly encountered and certainly the best loved.
The three Liebesträume (three Notturni) are attractive transcriptions of Liszt’s own song-settings. Of the set, No.3 has gained a widespread popularity with performers and audiences alike. A delightfully lyrical piece Tsujii paints a variety of vivid colours with playing that has a strong poetic feel.
Liszt held a strong passion for the Faust legend - in particular the character of Mephistopheles - a subject from which he gained inspiration at various times. The substantial Mephisto Waltz No. 1 with the title ‘The Dance at the Village Inn’ is by far the best known of his four Mephisto Waltzes. Liszt placed an annotation from Nikolaus Lenau’s version of Faust (1836) on the printed score. In this programmatic score Tsujii is a convincing story-teller, highly perceptive and providing both poetry and drama. 
Inspired by the folk music of the country of his birth, Liszt’s wrote nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies.From this set the technically challenging and melodically appealing Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 remains a perennial favourite. In this highly dramatic and entertaining music Tsujii plays with remarkable verve and makes light of the work’s difficulties.
Tsujii is a force to be reckoned with. He has the innate ability to communicate his personality into his gripping performances and he does so with unforced virtuosity.
Michael Cookson
Tsujii is a force to be reckoned with.