Shunta Morimoto – A colossus bestrides Villa Aldobrandini as it had when Liszt was in residence – complete review with Tokyo link to Schumann op 13

Shunta Morimoto at Villa Aldobrandini for Marylene Mouquets oassociation that is dedicated to her mentor Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

Marylene Mouquet with William Naboré

A programme that took even his teacher William Naboré by surprise as he sat at the piano after an hour of playing in which every note had been given a weight and an authority of rare concentration.
Offering as an encore Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasie of such architectural shape and power that was quite breathtaking.
He had evidently been thinking about the performance he gave in Japan a week ago and needed to share these new thoughts with an audience that were only too happy to add another great performance to the three on the programme.

Beethoven’s quasi una fantasia op 27 n 1 was played with even more authority than I remember from his recent performances.
A rhythmic drive and scrupulous attention to the composers indications were added now a refined sense of colour and shape that gave this neglected work the same power and musical integrity that Serkin used to bring to it.
The B flat minor Scherzo by Chopin was was remarkable for the revelatory contrasts he found in the score and the same clarity and precision that was a hallmark of all his interpretations.
The menace that he brought to the little triplet which is the very germ of this much maligned work.
But also the ravishing beauty of Chopin’s bel canto and the overwhelming power he brought to the left hand bass notes at key moments of passionate abandon. The excitement in the coda allied to a precision and fearless technical command was as breathtaking as I remember from Artur Rubinstein.

The beauty and transcendental command he brought to Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques was indeed another revelation .
A work he had just added to his repertoire to play in Japan and very much a voyage of discovery as was clear from listening to his rehearsal before the concert.I was eavesdropping and recovering from a long journey that had taken me from Kew to Frascati in one extra long morning ( due to the time change).I was privileged to hear him searching for hidden colour and playing with the harmonies in a way that many renowned pianists do in public performances!This was a private view in which he was searching in his practicing for hidden secrets of structure as he followed every strand of the music playing with such ravishing beauty.Very quietly and with such concentration sometimes stopping almost meditating as he spoke to himself in private indulgences all of which would later add such colour and authority to his public performance .

His sense of legato too in these sessions was of a transcendental command of the keyboard as he also played technically challenging passages slowly but with such care of the counterpoints and strands of melodic shape that the composer obviously discovered as he jotted down the notes in the moment of inspiration and technical mastery.
The difference with Shunta as with all great musicians is that all these strands and discoveries come together in performance as the great currents of underlying energy were ignited by a temperament and a sensitivity to his surroundings that swept all before it giving such architectural meaning to the overall shape .He could see the wood but he also saw and,oh how he loved,the trees !
It was refreshing to see how he had incorporated four of the posthumous studies into the fabric of the original op 13.The five extra studies of which he chose only four are sometimes played individually as encores or played in a block added to Schumann’s op 13 .Today they added moments of sublime beauty as they were allowed to glisten like jewels in the crown without disturbing the overall structure that Schumann had intended.
A performance where each study merits a special mention not only for his total technical command -ca va sans dire!-but for much much more besides.
A colossus bestrides this magnificent Villa today as it had when Liszt himself was resident .

Bill Naboré Marylene Mouquet Shunta Morimoto

Shunta’s recital in Tokyo on Saturday was a great success. Journalists, audience, and the members of PTNA who came to the concert all gave their hearty praise. I would like to send my compliments and appreciation to you Maestro Naboré once again. This is a recording of the concert with his first public performance of Schumann op 13 two weeks ago in Japan – his second was in Frascati for Marylene Mouquet’s Associazione Michelangeli :

Ms Yuko Ninomiya came to Shunta’s recital with her family. I am sending you an email she gave me after the recital, though it is my poor translation.

‘How many years has it been since I’ve been to a concert that was so wonderful and I listened so attentively? He came out with a lovely smile on his face, and once he touched the piano, I was so impressed that I wondered which maestro was playing!

Shunta with the distinguished teacher Yuko Ninomiya

I was so moved by Shunta’s music, remembering many times when Shohei (Shunta’s teacher, and Yuko’s student) used to come to my home for lessons. I sincerely hope Shunta will continue to improve as a musician.’

The first edition of Schumann op 13 in 1837 carried an annotation that the tune was “the composition of an amateur”: this referred to the origin of the theme, which had been sent to Schumann by Baron von Fricken, guardian of Ernestine von Fricken, the Estrella of his Carnaval op 9 .The baron, an amateur musician, had used the melody in a Theme with Variations for flute. Schumann had been engaged to Ernestine in 1834, only to break abruptly with her the year after. An autobiographical element is thus interwoven in the genesis of the Études symphoniques

It was played by Shunta with great weight where every strand was given it’s just meaning.I had heard him rehearsing this when he was experimenting with the balance between the voices.It was this infinite attention to balance that gave this opening statement such importance as it opened the door to the following variations.The first variation I have never heard with the clarity of a Bach fugue but with independent phrasing of each voice as it overlapped and wove it’s way to the final two chords thrown off with such grace.There was architectural shape to the third played with passion and power and the lightness of his jeux perlé in the third was even more remarkable for the legato melodic line that he sustained with such refined phrasing in the tenor register.Even the problematic trill in the melodic line was played with the legato and simplicity of a Monserrat Caballé.It was here that he inserted the first of the posthumous studies to great effect.It continued the same left hand melodic line but with its majestic ending on a deep C sharp that was interrupted by the chords of the third and fourth variations.The alternating chords usually such a battle were here a civilised conversation between the two voices that led so naturally to the scherzando fluttering of lightness and freshness like opening a window to let in some air after such seriousness.Here he inserted the second opus posthumous study with all its atmospheric vibrations of sound as the melodic line floats on these magic sounds with such emotional comments from the bass voice too.An extraordinary effect of improvisation coming after the rather more solidly placed chords of the previous variations.It allowed us to appreciate even more the romantic effusions and passionate virtuosity of the fifth variation where he not only gave space to the melodic line with the left hand thumb but also managed to shape the bass played by the little finger with an independence that was of quite extraordinary technical command.But Shunta has ten fingers that can become an orchestra with the colours and the instrumental independence that creates a whole.The sixth variation was played with the same rhythmic energy but his hands moved from one position to another with wrists that even one of the audience noted were like rubber as they seemed to wave so naturally at the keyboard.It was this that Agosti told us ,in his studio in Siena,that pianists should have fingers of steel but wrists of rubber?Agosti a disciple of Busoni who was a pupil of Liszt was able to explain so succinctly how to treat this box of hammers and strings and turn it into a full symphony orchestra without hardness or percussive sounds and also make it sing like the greatest bel canto singers of the day.It was indeed Agosti who would intone the seventh variation likening it to a great Gothic Cathedral.

It was exactly the weight and importance that Shunta brought to this remarkable variation.With the architectural structure of nobility and absolute authority that like the structure of a mighty Gothic Cathedral where one can only marvel that man is capable of creating something so monumental but at the same time so simple.Faith can bring man to heights of extraordinary genius as Bach has shown us.It was here that Shunta added the desolate simple skeleton of the fourth posthumous study.The simplicity and the colours he brought to the answering counterpoints was quite extraordinary for it’s sense of calm reflection after the great statement of the seventh.As though we had entered this monument to man’s faith and found just the simple lone crucifix of Christ on the cross.Yes it was a world that Shunta opened up to all those that could appreciate his great artistry and vision.Of course the Presto possible of the ninth variation was thrown off with all the ease of Mendelssohnian lightness.The only thing being ,as all pianist know ,Schumann wrote it as a true ‘tour de force’ of transcendental playing with which he had laboured to devastating effect and had led to him being unable to continue a pianistic career !The majestic tenth variation with it insistent rhythmic drive was contrasted with the miraculous fifth posthumous study.One of Schumann’s most beautiful creations together with the seventeenth of the Davidsbundler -a moment of breathtaking beauty and delicacy.

In rehearsal … work work ……Curzon said:’to be a great pianist is 90% work and 10% God given talent’.God has been very generous to Shunta!

I had been particularly interested in the way he had prepared this and the following ninth variation in rehearsal with a meditative concentration even talking to himself (unfortunately for me in Japanese) as he searched for the colour and points of arrival in the deep bass notes that would give such resonance to the deeply moving melodic line.He had hardly touched the keys at the beginning of this final variations finding a colour of such ravishing delicacy that he had taken from his kaleidoscopic repertoire of sounds hidden in his ten fingers.There was a long pause of deep reflection at the end of this variation before embarking of the Finale.The rhythmic chords usually so heavy and ungrateful were here given a shape and sense of direction that he linked so naturally to the beautiful melody that appears in its midst.Always with the dotted rhythm accompaniment but with a melodic line of such beauty as his finger legato allowed him to shape it without pedal accompanied by the lightness of these dotted rhythms that in lesser hands can become so uniform and ungrateful.The sudden change of key in the coda was breathtaking as he unleashed his full symphony orchestra with the same unrelenting rhythmic drive of a Toscanini.I anxiously await Shunta’s next voyage of discovery with his third performance that I think will be in England soon as winner of the Hastings International Concerto Competition.His UK debut will be in London on the 23rd March with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing the most beautiful of all concertos:Beethoven n.4 op 58

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