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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 16 September 2012
This disc celebrates the Carnegie Hall debut of Nobuyuki Tsujii in 2011 following on from his joint gold award won earlier at the 2009 Van Cliburn competition. The presented program is wide-ranging in its demands both technically and musically. What makes this even more of an achievement for Tsujii is that he has been blind from birth and that consequently he has had to learn everything that he plays by ear. This combination of achievements is fully appreciated by the ecstatic audience to such an extent that Tsujii finds their response to be touchingly overwhelming as the film concludes back stage.

The recital starts with one of the test pieces from the van Cliburn competition, the Improvisation and Fugue by John Musto. This is a technically demanding piece requiring considerable digital dexterity but could not be described as exploring means of expression such as touch or lyricism or other means of expressing a player's sensitivity. The piece clearly establishes the `wow' factor however and thus we are prepared for a fairly robust interpretation of the Beethoven `Tempest' sonata. This robust side of Tsujii's playing is much in evidence throughout the recital and especially in the first half which concludes with Liszt's `un sospiro' (a sigh) and his Rigoletto paraphrase.

The second half of the recital is interestingly very pictorial in its inspiration. It starts with `Pictures at an Exhibition' by Mussorgsky and this is followed by the image conscious `Jeanie with the light brown hair' in Tsujii's own arrangement. Chopin's `Raindrop' prelude follows with its portrayal of rain dripping and the recital concludes with Tsujii's original composition `Elegy for the Victims of the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011'. All of these pieces are played with astonishingly accurate technique which has by now become expected. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the last piece, his own composition based on his personal responses, which is by far the most relaxed of the evening and with it comes the greatest range of delicate touch and phrasing.

It would be totally unreasonable to compare any young player with those of more mature years who can add so much more experience, musical and non-musical, to their music making. However it is not unreasonable to consider players of a similar age on what must be a professionally flat playing field. Van Cliburn's own recordings made at a similarly young age are readily available for comparison, as are recordings of the youthful Ashkenazy, Argerich, Pollini, Perahia and countless others from earlier generations. From current performers one can compare with the likes of Yundi Li, Yuja Wang and Lang Lang to name but three foremost in the present public eye. It seems to me that all of these offer an enhanced range of touch and expression, often fleeting, that sometimes eludes Tsujii in this recital. The greater range presented in the very last piece suggests that we are only hearing part of the story on this occasion however which must have been extraordinarily stressful for him.

The camera work is good and non-invasive providing crisp imaging. The sound is presented in truthful DTS 5.1 surround sound and stereo. The booklet provides an interesting read.

This remains a fine recital by any standard and is well recorded. The playing is never less than technically astonishing. There is still some distance to go in terms of interpretive subtlety as described above but to expect more would be unreasonable and would leave so little for future development. For all of these reasons and assessing it on a flat playing field, I would suggest that 4 stars is a reasonable assessment of this disc. However, those who attended this concert, or others by Tsujii, might value the obvious `wow' factor more and prefer to award 5 stars regardless of the competition or any of my reservations as mentioned above. I would not disagree with them on that basis.
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