TSUJII, Nobuyuki: Live at Carnegie Hall (2011) (NTSC)
On November 10, 2011, Nobuyuki Tsujii, the blind pianist from Japan who was the winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medal in 2009, appeared on the stage of Carnegie Hall. His dream had come true. Arguable the most important event in the career of any performer, for “Nobu” it was a miracle. With his brilliant technique and beautiful tone, he contrasts familiar warhorses with newer pieces, including one of hisRead more own compositions written in memory of the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Nobu brought the usually reserved Carnegie Hall audience to its feet. After Nobu’s recital, Van Cliburn observed “What a thrill to hear this brilliant, very gifted, fabulous pianist. You feel God’s presence in the room when he plays. His soul is so pure, his music is so wonderful, and it goes to infinity, to the highest heaven.”
Program: John Musto: Improvisation and Fugue
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest”
3 Etudes de concert, S144/R5: No. 3 in D flat, “Un Sospiro”
Verdi - Rigoletto: Paraphrase de concert, S434/R267
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Stephen Foster: Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (arr. N. Tsujii)
Fryderyk Chopin: Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op. 28, No. 15, “Raindrop”
Nobuyuki Tsujii: Elegy for the Victims of the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011
Nobuyuki Tsujii, piano
Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, 10 November 2011
Picture format: 1080i Full-HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 97 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (Blu-ray)
R E V I E W:
LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL • Nobuyuki Tsuji (pn) • EUROARTS (DVD) 2059088; (Blu-ray) 2059084 (97:00)
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition. LISZT Un Sospiro. Rigoletto: Paraphrase de Concert. MUSTO Improvisation and Fugue. BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 17 in d, “Tempest.” FOSTER (arr. Tsuji) Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair. CHOPIN Prelude in D?. TSUJI Elegy for the Victims of the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011
To hear the phenomenal blind Japanese pianist, Nobuyuki Tsuji, is a wonderful thing, but to see him play adds a new dimension to one’s appreciation of his artistry. One immediately notes that he plays with a very flat finger position (akin to that of Horowitz). I cannot say whether this has something to do with his sightlessness, or rather his training (or both). Also quite noticeable is the fact that he places his hands on the keyboard at the beginning of a work to ascertain his starting point, and at other times during the course of a work, if the slightest pause in the music permits his gaining a point of reference. This seems logical, but almost unnecessary, as in many cases, the leaps demanded in a piece of music permit no such tactile reference, and he hits notes with stunning accuracy, having obviously been trained by years of sightless practice on the keyboard. But in the end, only the final product—the musical performance—counts for anything, and in this regard, Tsuji is about as good as they come.
Tsuji’s Carnegie Hall debut on November 10, 2011, must have been attended by considerable anticipation in its audience. The crowd in the filled-to-capacity hall shows every evidence of believing it got its money’s worth, and then some, given its rousing ovation after every piece. The program opens with the Improvisation and Fugue of John Musto, an arresting display piece in a quasi-atonal style, and full of evocative and interesting figuration. The pianist brings it off in a fashion that will surely inspire other pianists to look into the work. His feat in memorizing this tonally complex work without recourse to seeing the printed notes (I assume that there is no Braille version) is almost as impressive as his performance of it.
As a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic eras, Beethoven can be approached from varying but equally legitimate perspectives by his performers. In Tsuji’s performance of the composer’s “Tempest” Sonata, the pianist takes the via media, neither eschewing romantic gestures, nor particularly emphasizing them. Thus his reading of this work is not as full of the fire and passion that some pianists bring to it, but neither is it in any way lacking in musical expression. For instance, the chords that occasionally interrupt the flow of notes in the first movement are distinct, but not the giant chasms in continuity that certain pianists make of them. The Adagio movement exhibits all the nicely caressed phrases that one could wish for, and in the Allegretto finale, Tsuji produces a nicely balanced array of textures and articulations.
The next three works on this DVD were also on the studio CD that I reviewed in 35:4, and I will refer the interested reader to that review for additional comments beyond the few that I shall append here. Not being a pianist myself, I was not aware until I saw this video that in his Un Sospiro, Liszt has created a melodic line by alternating the notes therein between the two hands, the left having to cross over the right in order to play its part of the line. Watching Truji’s execution of this melody was amazing, especially given what I was hearing as he did so. It sounded absolutely as if he were playing the line with one hand and not two.
His rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition is quite similar here to the Challenge studio recording, but I did notice a few differences. One of these comes in measure 21 of “Byd?o,” where in this live performance Tsuji backs off from the previous fortissimo, whereas in the studio recording he does not. Both approaches work fine, so no problem in this corner. Another place where I do prefer the studio recording of May 2010 comes in measure 20 of “Limoges,” where the descending chromatic line in the left hand receives a very effective accentuation that is lacking in the DVD under review. All in all, Tsuji proves in this near flawlessly executed performance (the one noticeable fluff comes in measure 51 of “Baba-Yaga”) that his studio recording was anything but a cobbled-together series of short takes.
His three encore pieces are surprisingly devoid of overt virtuosity, and give evidence that Tsuji, the arranger and composer, is not in the same league as Tsuji the pianist. His own original work, Elegy for the Victims of the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011, is a tender and sentimental piece that shifts midway from A Minor to the more optimistic parallel A Major. It made a hit with the audience, despite its failure to probe into the depths of the tragedy it commemorates. Tsuji himself, as captured on the camera coming off the stage, was quite caught up in the emotion of the moment, and of the stunning reception he had received from a most appreciative audience.
The video aspect of the concert was well done, with an interesting variety of shots, including some of the house. The cameraman wisely didn’t stay focused too long at one time on the pianists head, which constantly shifts from one side to the other as he is caught up in the experience of making music. Tsuji fans will snap up this video, but so should anyone else who is interested in history-making events or sensational concert experiences. I received both conventional DVD and Blu-ray versions of this recital, but my 62-year-old eyes perceived only a slight superiority in the sharpness of the latter version, and my equally old ears no discernible difference in the sonics thereof.