Tsujii set the feet stamping…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

May 23, 2017 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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Japanese pianist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, sent the usually reserved Sydney Recital Hall audience into rapturous applause last night, and it wasn’t because he has been able to totally conquer the restrictions of blindness from birth.

Nobuyuki Tsujii

He showed himself to be a phenomenal pianist, full stop. In fact, once he was led to the piano, adjusted his bench and aligned himself with the keyboard, his disability was forgotten. It soon became obvious why he’d won the gold medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009 against all comers and had gone on to carve out an enviable international reputation.

While Tsujii presented a conservative program comprising Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, his performance was anything but conservative.  Technically, he is up there with the best, but when it comes to interpretation he does it his way.

He began with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Italian Concerto BWV 971, popular in the piano repertoire. Having been infant-fed on Glenn Gould, I found Tsujii’s reading leaned too much towards enthusiastic romanticism. But my liking for a drier, clearer dialogue between voices was obviously not shared by the audience which erupted in spontaneous applause when it was over. Having said that, I knew that we were in the presence of an exceptional pianist.

That was born out in the Mozart Sonata in B flat major, K570 where there were voices aplenty and the emergence of Tsujii’s huge tonal range – which is probably his most striking point of difference. He can go from thunder to the touch of a feather and never lose clarity. The Mozart also revealed another of Tsujii’s interpretive preferences: not to play slow movements too slowly. This particular Mozart Sonata has a long adagio middle movement that can drag. By speeding it up, Tsujii gave it a shape that cast a spell and prepared the listener for the sparkling allegretto that followed.

Fraser Beath McEwing

Virtually everybody who has learned the piano has played the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata (Op.27 No.2). There is a temptation to linger over it and ladle on the syrup. I remember English pianist Stephen Hough saying that it had to be played at a moderate trot and this is what Tsujii did, but submerged the repeated triplets to a murmur while gently enunciating the melody line. The result was transforming; t­he hackneyed had become suddenly fresh. After a pliable and satisfying second movement Tsujii turned the third into exhilarating bursts of power, interspersed with gentle respites. His Moonlight ranks as the best I’ve head – certainly live.

The program finished with another Beethoven sonata, the well-known Op.57 Appassionata. From a whispering start this built into a grand statement. The slow movement again received the hurry-up treatment that virtually reshaped it and led into a powerful and triumphant allegro ma non troppo final movement. Almost before the last note was sounded the audience was stamping, clapping and shouting ‘bravo’. This man had delivered a very exciting concert.

He was then generous with his encores which included Liszt’s La Campanella, Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude and the slow movement from Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata.

Fraser Beath McEwing is an accomplished pianist and commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation Advisory Board which provides assistance to talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of three novels.He is a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home.


One Response to “Tsujii set the feet stamping…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing”
  1. Melissa Liu says:

    Hello from U.S.A.! Good day.

    I saw Mr. Tsujii perform this recital at London’s Wigmore Hall on April 1 this year, WITHOUT AN INTERMISSION. You describe well how I felt about the performance. Being a long-time fan of Mr. Tsujii and not a trained musicologist, I know my objectivity is always in question. So, it is affirming and a pleasure to read this thoughtful review from a well-versed musician. Thank you.

    By the way, Mr. Tsujii journeyed to Sydney for almost 30 hours after performing in Berlin on May 15 (with Vladimir Ashkenazy in the Philharmonie), gave two performances in the Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on May 19 & 20, before wrapping up his whirlwind tour on May 22. Mind boggling!

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