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Besides the Triangle's long-established chamber music series, Chamber Music Raleigh and the Chamber Arts Society of Durham, the Arts Council of Moore County's Classical Concerts Series has racked up an impressive roster of performances since its founding in 1981. The four-concert seasons are held in the intimate Sunrise Theater, located just across from Southern Pines' iconic historic train station. Since the Moore County Arts Council took over the series, it has been directed by Chris Dunn. This concert featured sonatas by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and Johannes Brahms (1833-97).
Pianist Jon Nakamatsu has been one of the most popular soloists across this state's venues since he won the Gold Medal of the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Festival in 1997. He is the only American to have won the medal since 1981. He also tours with clarinetist Jon Manasse in the Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo. This duo also succeeded Nicholas Kitchen, of the Borromeo Quartet, as directors of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts which was founded by Samuel Sanders in 1979.
Nakamatsu has shown musicological curiosity in both his programing and recorded repertoire since the start of his career. Long-forgotten sonatas by contemporaries or revivals of Beethoven, such as Joseph Wölfl (1773-1812) or Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), have been featured. Italian Clementi developed and established his career in London, England, where his life was centered on the piano as composer, performer, teacher, manufacturer,* and music publisher. He is credited with having composed more than 100 piano sonatas, several of which were admired by Beethoven.
The concert opened with Clementi's Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 5. One of his best known, it is in three movements and combines Classical elegance in structure with an almost Romantic urgency. Nakamatsu beautifully spun out the somewhat reserved first two movements, the first with its delicate tracery of melodies and the melancholy song of the second. His refined control of the dynamic contrast within these was ratchetted up in the stormy Presto finale.
Nakamatsu said he chose this program around Beethoven's contemporary influences and his major influence on his successors. Clementi was one of the few of his fellow composers he admired. Beethoven's achievements cast a long shadow over Brahms efforts.
Beethoven's piano sonatas are divided into three periods. The first period encompasses works composed between age 32 to 47 during which he worked to expand the Classical form of Haydn and Mozart on a larger scale. With each work, he took increasing liberties with the form, such as in the Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2. In Sonata No. 15 in D, Op. 28, (Pastoral), programmed by Nakamatsu, the composer reverts to a more conservative style compared to its three predecessors (Op. 26 & 27). The Pastoral is the composer's last sonata to have four movements. Much use is made of repetition such as the drone-like bass of the first movement of the bagpipe-like droning opening the last movement. The song-like second movement Andante was one of Beethoven's favorites. The third movement Scherzo abounds with humorous touches.
Nakamatsu gave a superb interpretation. His phrasing and choices of dynamics and tempo were most convincing. What a delightful light touch he brought to the relatively "pastoral" movements: the first two and the opening of the finale. He brought out the ravishing singing melodic line of the Andante exquisitely. The harmonic hijinks of the Scherzo were given plenty of rein and the playful harmonics of the trio were brought out vividly. He unleashed plenty of keyboard fireworks in the Presto of the Finale.
Brahms Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op.5 brought the recital to a rousing conclusion. This very challenging piece is the product of the 20-year-old composer and was the first of his works to bring him significant acclaim. The composer eschewed virtuoso display as an end in itself for solid craftsmanship, vitality, and above all a deep-rooted musical coherence. Sonata No. 3 is in five movements. The first juxtaposes a rhythmical motive and an evenly paced lyrical section. The second movement Andante is one of the composer's most gorgeous lyric elegies. Sweeping arpeggiated figures dominate the Scherzo while the odd fourth movement, Intermezzo (Rückblick "Recollection"), is a somber reworking of the Andante's theme. The finale explodes with challenging rhythmic and melodic contrasts.
Nakamatsu brought every element from the quiver of virtuosity and musicianship to a breathtaking performance of the Brahms Sonata No. 3. He managed to give a coherent overview of its sprawling five movements. There was much to see as well as hear as the entire keyboard got a workout in the first movement. His seamless spinning of the melodies of the second movement was resplendent. The remaining movements lacked nothing for power or rhythmic and dynamic contrasts.
Repeated curtain calls and a standing ovation were rewarded with a haunting performance of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor by Frédéric Chopin (1810-49).
*Among the instruments in the Duke University Musical Instrument Collection is an 1805 Clementi grand piano from the composer's London workshop. It can be heard in occasional recitals.