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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition; Liszt / Nobuyuki Tsujii

Mussorgsky / Liszt
Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72526  
Composer:  Modest MussorgskyFranz Liszt
Performer:  Nobuyuki Tsuji
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition. LISZT Un Sospiro. Rigoletto: Concert Paraphrase Nobuyuki Tsujii (pn) CHALLENGE CC 72526 (44:35)

It was with particular anticipation that I put this CD into my player. Quite simply, I was excited to hear for the first time a pianist whose reputation had preceded him into the Canfield household. Winning a gold medal in the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was Read more just the latest in a string of triumphs experienced by this blind Japanese pianist. I hasten to say that Nobuyuki Tsujii fully met my expectations from the very first notes of his rendition of Mussorgsky’s masterpiece.

Tsujii’s reading of Pictures is marked by a secure conception of the work, unusually great dynamic contrasts, and meticulously polished playing. He has learned the work, though, from an edition that has two minor mistakes: In measure 44 of “Gnomus,” an F is printed in the final beat in the right hand, instead of Mussorgsky’s G?, and in measure 20 of “Catacombs,” a tie in the left hand is missing. Tsujii’s opening promenade is more leisurely than one often hears it, quite in accord with the case that Mussorgsky scholar Joel Sheveloff makes for a slower tempo here (and throughout the piece). In measure 10, Tsujii makes the eighth notes more staccato than do most pianists, also to very good effect. “Gnomus” is likewise marked with huge contrasts in dynamics and tempi. The gnome here sounds very menacing indeed. A minor flaw in this movement is his excessive pedaling in the final run, pronounced enough that it is difficult to ascertain if he is playing the correct notes.

Tsujii’s rendition of “Il vecchio Castello” is characterized by a gorgeous singing tone and some of the most beautiful phrasing that I have ever heard by a pianist. “Tuilleries” perfectly depicts the quarreling children and the scolding babushka attending them. “Byd?o” simply could not be better in the picture of lumbering oxen that the pianist paints. It’s interesting that he doesn’t ease up in volume in measure 21 as do most pianists. I can’t fault him here, though, since there is no indication in Mussorgsky’s score that this should happen. The pompousness of “Samuel Goldenberg” comes through magnificently, as does the whimpering of the hapless “Schmuÿle.” His “Limoges” succeeds in capturing the banter of the gossips in the marketplace better than 95 percent of pianists I’ve heard, and the accentuation of the descending chromatic line that he makes in measure 20 is particularly effective.

“Baba-Yaga” simply amazes me. The leaps required in both hands in this movement (and in certain other places throughout Pictures ) challenge sighted pianists. I have heard more than a few superb pianists in live performances hit numerous wrong notes in this movement. How someone who is blind can negotiate a piece such as “Baba-Yaga,” I have no idea. Again in this movement, though, I find that he uses a touch too much pedal in measures 9ff, although after measure 25, I have no complaints. My only other reservation is that I like to hear more accentuation in the bass notes in measures 67ff (and its reiteration later on). Other than those minor caveats, this movement is dead-on in its impact. One other departure from the score comes in the second chorale of the “Great Gate” (measures 64ff), where Tsujii foregoes Mussorgsky’s marked fortissimo in favor of a mezzo-forte. Here, I won’t fault him, as I feel this is the only place in the entire score where Mussorgsky has made a miscalculation. The sparse four-part writing in this section simply cannot sustain the dynamic that Mussorgsky calls for here, especially in the middle of the keyboard where it resides. In measures 111ff of this same movement, Tsujii executes the fastest and cleanest descending scale that I’ve ever heard out of any pianist. The effect is simply breathtaking, and of course, he does slow down at the bottom of the scale, lest it devolve into one huge rumbling blur. In short, this is a Pictures for the ages, and worthy of residing in your library, even if you have a gazillion other recordings of the work, as I do.

Tsujii is no less impressive in his Liszt selections. Un Sospiro evidences once again his beautiful singing line in his right hand, underpinned by all the filigree in the left. The Rigoletto Paraphrase is tossed off with unbelievable and effortless dexterity, and the pianist’s rendition of it almost persuades me that it is a great piece of music, which it actually is not.

Given that any reservations I’ve expressed are very minor, this is definitely a CD that every pianophile will want to have in his collection. But I recommend it not only to pianophiles, but all music lovers who desire to add a major artist to their libraries. The sound of the piano itself is magnificent, and is sonically one of the best piano recordings I’ve ever heard. This disc consequently resides in the sine qua non category of recommendation.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Concert Etudes (3) for Piano, S 144: no 3 in D flat Major, Un sospiro by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Nobuyuki Tsuji (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1848; Weimar, Germany 
Paraphrase on Quartet from Verdi's "Rigoletto", S 434 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Nobuyuki Tsuji (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859; Weimar, Germany 
Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Nobuyuki Tsuji (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Russia 

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