Thursday, 14 July 2011

ROMANCING RUSSIA / Chisato Kusunoki Piano Recital / Review

Singapore Airlines Theatre,
LaSalle College of the Arts
Tuesday (12 July 2011)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 14 July 2011 with the title "Classic Russia with passion".

There is some innate quality in Russian music that transcends the sound and fury, and it has to do with a psyche tormented by centuries of turmoil, oppression and bloodshed. To unlock its secrets takes special understanding beyond mere mastery of notes. Non-Russian pianists like Van Cliburn, John Ogdon, Moura Lympany and Hamish Milne have it in their veins. One is tempted to add young Japanese pianist Chisato Kusunoki to that list.

Her second all-Russian piano recital here in two years was proof of her prowess. It began with Variations On A Polish Song by Anatol Liadov (left), better known for his miniatures. A simple mazurka-like melody was subjected to a series of Chopin-styled elaborations, reliving passages of his études and nocturnes before closing in a quasi-polonaise rhythm.

Kusunoki’s care for detail, no matter how minute, was admirable and so was the overall arch applied to short pieces played as an integral set. That came to a heady fruition in Nikolai Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies (Op.39, left), a Singapore premiere, where the main thematic thrust was never sacrificed by the complex counterpoint and dizzying filigree.

Medtner does not wear his heart on sleeve as blatantly as his close friend Sergei Rachmaninov, but who could resist the tenderness of Canzona Matinata (Morning Song), violently contrasted with the hot-blooded flailings in Sonata Tragica. In Kusonoki’s hands, one begins to feel the toil and pain.

Alas, her passion and effort were hampered by the unflattering acoustics of this new venue. Whereas she was able to roar like a bear in last year’s Victoria Concert Hall recital, the lack of projection and bloom afforded by the hall reduced the keyboard’s potential (Steinway no less) to a toothless whimper.

Rach & Medt, Russian pals

In Rachmaninov’s early Morceaux de Fantasie (Op.3), that mattered somewhat less as her gilded cantabile in the Elegie and Melodie, and comedic turns of the Polichinelle and Serenade came across well. However the chordal procession and pealing of bells in the popular Prélude (the composer’s infamous albatross) was rendered one dimensional by recessed sound.

It was even worse for Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata in B flat minor (Op.36), where its oceanic dynamic range became a puddle in a teacup. No fault of the pianist, who delivered every note assiduously and with visible gusto. Kusunoki repeats this splendid programme on Friday (15 July). Pity about the sound, but go instead for her artistry.

Chisato Kusunoki's piano recitals are presented by InTune Music School.

1 comment:

Chang Tou Liang said...

As her sole encore, Chisato Kusunoki performed Rachmaninov's Fragments, one of his short early pieces (without Opus number).