The Joy of the Piano
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Gavotte and Variations from Suite in A Minor
Johannes Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Opus 1
Franz Liszt: Three Sonetti del Petrarca
Frédéric Chopin: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Opus 22
Jon Nakamatsu (piano)
J. Nakamatsu (© Courtesy of the artist)
With the last measures from Leif Ove Andsnes’ recital 48 hours before still resonating in my mind, it was not fair to hear the young Jon Nakamatsu last night. Mr. Andsnes’ music was a hieratic genuflection to serious art. Mr. Nakamatsu was a joyous celebration of piano virtuosity.
Granted, Mr. Andsnes has a plethora of incarnations in his many recitals, including sheer virtuosity. Mr. Nakamatsu is following up on his 1997 Gold Medal in the Van Cliburn competitions a dozen years of marvelous recordings, a rare brilliant partnership with a clarinetist, and recordings including the concerti of the late Lukas Foss. But in the recital last night, he took no chances. The first half was stately, classical, respectful. The second half was a deletable tasting of ultra-Romantic music, with two ultra-Romantic encores to finish things up.
Mr. Nakamatsu is indeed a natural virtuoso. One doesn’t think “Whoa! How do his fingers do those double octaves? How does he play up and down the scales so quickly?” Instead, one concentrates on his music, only later realizing what a sure and confident pianist he is. He was able to rip through the Liszt “Petrarch” pieces, not only with sureness and pleasure, but even making his excessive rubatos sound like they belonged there. The 47th Sonetto was played with temperate grace until aforesaid double octaves, taken with ease. The Sonetto 123 was swift and pointed. And the second, Number 104, was the most personal for the pianist’s collection, with pauses, varied rhythms, but always with joy.
Nor did the final Chopin disappoint. Yes, the Polonaise of the two-part work is an undoubted crowd-pleaser, but it was written just for those moments, and Mr. Nakamatsu is evidently not one to shun applause, while keeping his musical good taste.
One would like to say that the more challenging, less openly virtuosic works of the first half would be more satisfying, but Mr. Nakamatsu, at this point, is more the extrovert than the philosopher. Thus in the opening Rameau, an exquisite work for harpsichord, he had no attempts to replicate that instrument on the Steinway. Mr. Nakamatsu was unafraid to use the pedal for resonance and to give the crescendos which wwere improbable on Rameau’s instrument.
Brahms’ First Sonata (actually his second, but he thought his “First” was better, so transposed the numbers!) was played with the decisive confident bookend movements. But the folk song variations of the Andante were performed with a rare tranquility by the artists. Some pianists wait to climax with the last prayerful measures. Mr. Nakamatsu has the good sense to keep the structure as the ‘inner” Brahms, not looking for special effects.
If one had any doubt of the pianist’s love of the Romantic, the two encores solved that question. Another Liszt piece, his transcription of Schumann’s Widmung was given a warm lyrical treatment, while the Mendelssohn Rondo capriccioso made one realize that comparisons are odious, and that Mr. Nakamatsu offered a special outward exultation.