Asagi Nakata elegance and poetry at St James’s Piccadilly

The Haydn sonata Hob XVI:49 was written in 1789/90 and marked the beginning of Haydn’s late, mature style.It opened the lunchtime recital of Asagi Nakata at St James’s Piccadilly.Streamed live I was able to listen from afar to a performance of Haydn of rare elegance and poetry.Not since Sokolov have I been so enraptured by a performance of such character but above all scrupulous attention to detail that brought this little masterpiece vividly to life.Of course Asagi has all the technical resources at her fingertips which allowed her great musicianship to bring a kaleidoscopic sense of colour and shape to all that she did.From the energetic opening that just seemed to spring so naturally from her fingers to the complete contrast of the second subject played with a sense of legato and line that contrasted so well.The playful return of the first subject where the duet between the bass and the treble just seemed to bubble over with such joie de vivre.A sense of balance that allowed the accompaniment to sustain rather than overpower the delicacy and playfulness of the melodic line .The seemingly lost almost searching nature of the development was played with just the right sense of discovery as the delicate cadenza led back to home ground once again.An Adagio that was like a bel canto aria such was the subtle shape that she brought to the radiant melodic line.Even the brooding middle section had a radiance and poetic sense of colour that brought even more poignancy to the return of the main subject with Haydn’s own embellishments played with such subtle delicacy.A coda that threatens seriousness but resolves in such a simple harmonious way to the final two barely whispered chords.The finale – Tempo di Minuet was played with a childlike simplicity with such refined ornamentation and play between legato and staccato.There was whispered delicacy as it touches the minor key before the extreme charm of the final few bars

With three symphonies transcribed by 1837 – n.5,6 and 7 Liszt set aside the work for another 23 years. It was not until 1863 that Breitkopf & Härtel suggested to Liszt that he transcribe the complete set for a future publication. For this work, Liszt recycled his previous transcriptions by simplifying passages, stating that “the more intimately acquainted one becomes with Beethoven, the more one clings to certain singularities and finds that even insignificant details are not without their value”. He would note down the names of the orchestral instruments for the pianist to imitate, and also add pedal marks and fingerings for amateurs and sight readers. They are though among the most technically demanding piano music ever written.There was an immediate change of colour as Asagi brought a rich orchestral sound to this first movement of the first symphony.There was great rhythmic impetus and sense of character to her playing.A clarity that allowed the playful answer and question between instruments to be so full of orchestral colour.There were great contrasts too in the development section before the rhythmic outburst of the return of the recapitulation.An ending of breathtaking rhythmic urgency just made one wish we could hear the whole symphony from her musicianly hands.

“Waldesrauschen”,is the first of two concert studies that were composed in Rome around 1862/63 by Liszt : “Waldesrauschen” (Forest Murmurs) and “Gnomenreigen” (Dance of the Gnomes).Rarely performed in concert these days although ‘Gnomenreigen’ is played more often by virtuosi and is known for its technical difficulty in its fast and soft passages, where the pianist imitates the sound of gnomes.’Waldesrauschen’ on the other hand is a tone poem of rare beauty that I have not heard in public since Perlemuter played it as an encore in London many years ago.So it was refreshing to hear the beautifully fluid accompaniment just flow from Asagi’s delicate hands as she moulded the melodic line with such beauty shaping it with refined flexibility and a ravishing sense of balance as the music became ever more passionate.It led to a sumptuous climax of aristocratic control and technical command dying away to a mere whisper.

There were grandiose sounds and also great clarity to Rachmaninov’s technically challenging Etude Tableaux op 39 n.9. Played with great style and character as she brought this virtuoso piece vividly to life.The five movements of Ginastera’s Suite de Danzas Criollas op 15 were played with sultry melodic line of pure magic alternating with savage rhythmic energy of exhilarating excitement and brought the concert to a sumptuous close.

A transcription by Cziffra of Vecsey’s La Valse was offered as an encore and played with all the charm and jeux perlé of another age.A haunting beauty with bewitching ornamentation of the great virtuosi of the past that Asagi played with a ravishing sense of style that was true magic.


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