RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Nobuyuki Tsujii - Live at Carnegie Hall
John MUSTO (b. 1954)
Improvisation and Fugue (2008) [7:44]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 ‘The Tempest’ (1801-1802) [21:40]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
3 Etudes de concert, S144/R5: No. 3 in D flat, ‘Un Sospiro’ (1845-1849) [5:27]
Verdi - Rigoletto: Paraphrase de concert, S434/R267 (1855-?1859) [8:51]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [33:00]
Stephen FOSTER (1826-1864)
Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (1854) (arr. Nobuyuki Tsujii) [5:48]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op. 28 No. 15 ‘Raindrop’ (1835-1839) [5:36]
Nobuyuki TSUJII (b. 1988)
Elegy for the Victims of the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 (2011) [4:31]
Nobuyuki Tsujii (piano)
rec. live, Carnegie Hall, New York, 10 November 2011
Producer/director: Peter Rosen
Picture: NTSC / 16:9 / 1080i Full-HD
Sound: PCM Stereo / dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
EUROARTS BLU-RAY 205 9084 [97:00]
Few recitals come as freighted with praise and promise as this. The young Japanese pianist-composer Nobuyuki Tsujii was just two when his musical ability was first recognised; he started formal piano studies at four and won his first prize at the age of seven. At 10 he played with an orchestra for the first time, making his solo debut two years later. Other milestones passed in quick succession; he received the Critics’ Prize at the 2005 Chopin competition, trumping that with a gold medal at the Van Cliburn competition in 2009. Remarkable by any standards; even more so as Nobuyuki Tsujii is blind, and has been since birth.
One just has to read the fulsome praise for this Carnegie Hall concert to realise one is in the presence of an artist of rare character and formidable ability. Sighted pianists will spend years poring over complex scores, yet this young man has to learn them by ear. Even the most cursory glance at this challenging programme confirms what a feat that is; and if that weren’t enough, Tsujii has written music for film and television as well.
Given these talents it’s entirely apt that he kicks off with the Improvisation and Fugue by fellow pianist-composer John Musto. It’s a fiendishly difficult opener, its jazzy rhythms overlaid with breathtaking runs and powerful, punishing chords; clearly the piece holds no terrors for Tsujii. Indeed, it only takes a few seconds to understand that this is no one-trick wannabe but an artist of considerable substance and style. There’s colour, there’s brio and there’s humour, and it leaves one slack-jawed in wonderment. The piano sound - in PCM stereo at least - is firm and full-bodied, the detail of Musto’s bravura writing crystal clear at all times. The picture is sharp and vibrant as well, although I don’t much care for those meandering pans across the packed hall.
A promising start and a glimpse of what to expect from the tempest-toss’d sonata that follows. There’s terrific weight and thrust to Tsujii’s playing here, and his articulation is always impressive. Most revealing is the sense of liberation, of a piece broken out of amber and allowed to move and breathe in the most natural and instinctive way. Not everyone will warm to his Beethoven, but few could doubt its freshness and, yes, its modernity. Tsujii draws glowing colours from his Steinway and there are moments when those familiar harmonies and progressions catch one by surprise. That’s rare in such oft-heard pieces, and it adds to the sense of renewal and rediscovery. Is it a great performance? Perhaps not. An illuminating and provocative one? Most certainly.
The two Liszt encores are rather special though. From the glorious susurrations of its opening bars ‘Un sospiro’ roams and ripples in a way I’ve seldom encountered before. Tsujii also brings out the music’s inner voices, these hidden splendours uncovered as if for the very first time. In fact, there are moments when this young man could easily take his place alongside legendary Lisztians - the patrician Arrau especially - such is the nobility and breadth of his conception. I always rejoice in the surge and passion of this music, but I can’t remember being as moved by it as I was here. As for the Rigoletto paraphrase, all I can say is that Tsujii is as grand and glittering as one could wish for; more important, he builds, sustains and quickens the drama in true Verdian style.
Tsujii is just as instinctive and dramatic in the Mussorgsky, where each of Hartmann’s evocative pictures is painted in the boldest of colours and strongest of contrasts. That said, he brings a wistful, doodling charm to the first of the linking Promenades, which makes Gnomus and Il vecchio castello seem more imposing than usual. I did wonder whether such dynamic extremes masked a lack of subtlety and insight, but one only has to hear how he characterises the chatter of chicks and fishwives - not to mention the rhythmic sway of that ox-cart - to know such fears are groundless.
Even more impressive is the huge weight and range of sonorities Tsujii coaxes from his piano in the later Promenades, The Catacombs and The Hut on Fowl’s Legs. The sound on this Blu-ray is equally revealing, Mussorgsky’s more subtle harmonies most faithfully caught. Indeed, the sophisticated textures Tsujii teases out of Cum mortuis are simply astonishing, the climactic Great Gate at Kiev evoked in playing - and sonics - of thrilling heft and grandeur. Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in the hall is electric, the applause thunderous; and so it should be, for it’s a truly epic reading of this great score.
That would have been more than enough to send me home in good humour, but the audience demands - and gets - three gorgeous encores. Tsujii’s arrangement of the Stephen Foster parlour song is just delightful, the homespun quality of the original - and its hint of jangling joanna - easily heard in this affectionate little homage. As for Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ prelude, it emerges with a pleasing sense of poise and scale - and a depth of feeling - that makes the piece seem even more of a miracle than it is. Tsujii ends with his gentle elegy to the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It’s a modest and unassuming work, whose serene central theme is firm and indomitable; the writing is just as assured as the playing.
After reading those effusive comments on the box I was determined to take a cooler, more rational view of this pianist. As it happens I’m now utterly convinced Nobuyuki Tsujii is that rarest of creatures, a unique and precious talent that marries technical prowess with daunting levels of insight and flair. Indeed, as he plays he constantly looks around him, as if responding to the commands of a hidden muse; it’s rather distressing at first, but that sense of invisible communion strikes me as an apt and powerful metaphor for his artistry. My only grumble is that the audience - like so many these days - is much too quick to applaud; it’s especially irritating at the end of the Beethoven. Equally ill-considered is the keyboard cam that captures Tsujii in vertiginous - and unflattering - close-up. Very small niggles in an otherwise top-notch presentation.
A profound and bewitching talent; inspiring in every way.
A profound and bewitching talent; inspiring in every way.
Masterwork Index: Pictures at an exhibition