Recital Review Print



From the Wölfl to Liszt: Nakamatsu in Burlington

April 5, 2002 - Burlington, NC:


Fanciers of the rapidly vanishing art of the solo recital ought to become aware of a "pilot project" of the Adams Foundation, which presented its second program on April 5 in the beautifully restored old Paramount Theater on East Front Street in Burlington. The theater's acoustics are more than adequate and the hall can seat about 400 people. On street and municipal parking is nearby. The purposes of the Adams Foundation are to educate young people, provide live concerts for lovers of piano music, and create opportunities for talented American pianists to perform. This pilot project is intended to re-establish piano and duo-piano recitals in communities throughout America. I hope this will help bring music to smaller communities.

Pianist Jon Nakamatsu was named the Gold Medalist of the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the only American to have won since 1981. The former high school German teacher has became a popular hero overnight. He has an impressive list of concerts in the current season that includes orchestral engagements, recitals and chamber music collaborations throughout the United States and in Europe. Among his engagements is an appearance with the Santa Rosa (CA) Symphony conducted by former concert pianist Jeffrey Kahane, a candidate for the music directorship of the North Carolina Symphony who will appear here next season.

Not a shallow virtuoso, Nakamatsu selected a program that gave a broad survey of the development of the piano literature with an imaginative and surprising addition, the Sonata in C Minor, Op. 25 by Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812). Whenever you run into an unknown sonata and wonder whom to call, the answer is invariably one of William S. Newman's books, in this case The Sonata in the Classic Era. There one learns that Wölfl was a brilliant pianist and rival of Beethoven as a performer whose many sonatas-60 for the piano and some 55 for two instruments-vary wildly in quality.

At the time of Newman's research, two sonatas were available in printed (or performing) editions. One was a cello sonata (Op. 31), commended as an addition to the too small repertory, and the other was the Op. 25 "Sonate précedee d'une Introduction et Fugue," played in Burlington. The opening is dramatic and tonally rich, reminiscent of Mozart's "Fantaisie," in the same key. An austere four-voice fugue calls Bach to mind. While much of the rest suggests Beethoven, as pointed out by Newman, Wölfl goes "more and farther afield tonally." While it was refreshing to hear something so old and "new," the composer falls far short of Beethoven in that he repeats figures a lot with far less retooling, leaving them almost untouched except in the last movement.

Fine style and a full array of brilliant technique and musicianship were deployed in Chopin's Polonaise-fantaisie in A-Flat, Op. 61, and Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20. Nakamatsu brought a wonderful sense of rhythmic drive to Op. 61, the last polonaise composed. He coaxed a beautiful flowing tone in the meditative theme of Op. 20, "a Polish Noël taken directly from a folk song." Some off tuning (corrected during the intermission break) slightly spoiled the last chords.

Perhaps the hall's otherwise fine Steinway limited the deep, dark tone one has come to expect as Nakamatsu turned to Rachmaninoff. Otherwise, three of that dour composer's Preludes-in C, Op. 32, No. 1; D, Op. 23, No. 4; and C Minor, Op. 32, No.7-were played to the romantic hilt. Your Francophile critic was in seventh heaven with the myriad of tone color and agile rhythms of Debussy's Suite bergamasque. The witty Menuet brought a scattering of applause and the audience was in a palpable reverie during "Clair de lune." All the virtuoso stops in Nakamatsu's technique were pulled out for a fully romantic and richly satisfying reading of Liszt's Après une lecture du Dante (Fantasia quasi Sonata) from Book II of Années de pèlerinage. A well-earned standing ovation brought a fine unannounced encore. The nearly full house promises success for this outstanding pilot project.

All four CD recordings of the exclusive Harmonia Mundi USA artist were available for a reasonable $18 in the lobby before the recital, during intermission and after the concert, when Nakamatsu was available to autograph purchases and to meet newly-won fans.