Thursday, 20 June 2013

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, June 2013)

EuroArts DVD 2059088 / *****

The young Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, blind from birth, was already a celebrity in Japan before he shared First Prize at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. After that, he became a universal icon. This video recording of his Carnegie Hall début on 10 November 2011 showed that his victory was no fluke, a genuine and prodigious talent totally beyond doubt. He learnt his music by ear, with each work painstakingly pieced together with the help of teachers and an instinctual grasp of diverse musical idioms. There is no performance in his recital that does not sound convincing.

One suspends belief on witnessing the opening piece, Improvisation & Fugue by the American John Musto, specially commissioned for the competition. His mastery of its seemingly atonal themes and jazzy riffs is a feat that demands repeated viewing. The Beethoven Tempest Sonata (Op.31 No.2) that follows possesses the requisite drama and fire, while he tosses off the technicalities of Liszt’s Un Sospiro and Rigoletto Paraphrase with the greatest of ease. That his view of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is more characterised and trenchant than many sighted pianists is also significant. There are three encores which reveal a more mellow and sentimental side to his artistry. If this DVD does not inspire you or warm your heart, nothing will.

Nobu's piano recital at Esplanade Concert Hall on Tuesday (25 June) has been sold out.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / James Judd
Decca 478 352 7 / *****

The 2012 Gramophone Award-winning young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor’s début concerto recording confirms the plaudits he has been receiving of late. This is a collection of easy-on-the-ear piano concertos that demands elegance, finesse and intelligence to pull off, not just a surfeit of bravura. Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto was once described as a journey “from Bach to Offenbach”. It can sound vulgar and frivolous, but in his hands, comes across as witty, even thoughtful. Ravel’s jazz-inflected Piano Concerto in G major benefits from his rapier-keen reflexes in the fast outer movements, and a graceful dreaminess for the Mozartian slow movement.

That leaves Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, in its original 1924 version for jazz band, which he owns with a swing and swagger than would make jazzmen jealous. As a gratifying touch, he offers solo encores after each concerto. The choices of Godowsky’s transcription of Saint-Saens’s The Swan, Ravel’s minute-long Prelude (crafted as a conservatory sight-reading piece) and Percy Grainger’s take on Gershwin’s Love Walked In have an exquisite touch and reflect his catholic tastes. Grosvenor’s next album, whatever it may be, will be keenly awaited.

@ 20th Singapore International Piano Festival
Saturday 22 June 2013
School of the Arts / 8 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC (Selling out fast)


Anonymous said...

without giving allowances to the fact that he is blind, there is almost nothing credible about tsujii's musicality. i'll give him the credit for the distance he has gone, and all the effort which has gone into learning all the repertoire, but thats all he will get, and all he deserves.

I did a blind test on two supposed tsujii fans. What i did was to play them CDs of tsujii's interpretations along with other interpretations, and not telling them which was which, and asking them to rate each CD. needless to say, they themselves were very shocked when they rated tsujii's CD's very poorly after i revealed each recording to them after that.

Maybe you should try it too. You'll be surprised at the results. Don't let somebody's disability blind your good judgement.

The great music critic, Bryce Morrison, who you undoubtly know, once gave a poor review of Yefim Bronfman's recordings of Rachmaninoff's Concertos, while praising Joyce Hatto's imitations of the exact same recording. I'm not sure if you know about this, but a quick google will find you the article where someone pointed this out.

I hope you don't fall into that trap.

M. L. Liu said...

Dr Chang Tou Liang:

From California, I am a big fan of Nobuyuki Tsujii.

I found your blog a while back and was impressed with your enthusiasm for piano music. So, with Nobu's debut recital in Singapore drawing close, I gave a visit, and was rewarded with your post of the review in the Strait Times of his Carnegie Hall debut DVD.

What kind (and deserving) words they are for Nobu! And I am so happy that the recital has been sold out. I look forward to hearing more about it!