Friday, 14 May 2010


Victoria Concert Hall
Thursday (13 May 2010)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 May 2010.

Some of the pre-requisites to perform Russian piano music convincingly are emotional heft, an iron-clad technique and loads of reserve. While one does not need to be Russian or at least Slavic, it certain helps. It was thus a pleasant surprise to see a UK-based Japanese pianist wrestle with the Russian bear and come out victorious and pretty much unscathed.

Chisato Kusonoki packs a wallop within her tiny frame. For Alexander Scriabin’s fiery Third Sonata in F sharp minor which opened her 2-hour long recital, the music tread the fine line of being copy-Chopin to bursting free from all fetters. She shaped the lyrical phrases beautifully, especially in the languid slow movement, and went for broke in the volatile and breathless finale. Poised and polished, she was unafraid to throw off the gloves and go bare-knuckled.

Equally enthralling were two contrasting Transcendental √Čtudes by Sergei Lyapunov, an obvious homage to Liszt’s virtuosity. The serene Lullaby luxuriated in Borodinesque harmonies while the harrowing Lesghinka, a coruscating Oriental dance, found her in imperious form. If there is a work to outdo Balakirev’s overplayed Islamey Fantasy, this is it. Students and serial competitors take note!
Demonstrating she was not just dizzying fingers, her selection of three Tchaikovsky Seasons – the slower and more introspective ones – revealed a more intimate side. In Autumn Song (October), Kusunoki’s uniting of two disparate voices was a model of particular beauty and sensitivity.

In Rachmaninov’s Six Moments Musicaux (Op.16), all the critical faculties for a memorable performance came to bear. Her gift of cantabile served the first and fifth pieces well, the former never a slave to the right hand’s vertiginous maneuvers and the latter reliving the joy of arch-simplicity. Razor-sharp reflexes also weathered the whirlwind tempos of the second and fourth Moments, with lots more to spare.

The brooding third number, the most Russian of the set, probed deeply into the collective psyche and offered up some secrets. For the final C major romp, she unleashed the roar of the ocean, approximating the power of a Lazar Berman, but without the pummeling brute force. Her lovely encore, a Chopin nocturne and the only non-Russian work, marked a welcome return to solace and serenity.

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