Shunta Morimoto made his London orchestral debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as his prize for winning the Hastings International Piano Competition.A competition that has grown in stature in it’s fifty year or so existence that thanks to Vanessa Latarche and her team have turned a bauble into a gem.A competition that draws great young talent worldwide to compete for a chance to play with the historic Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Last year a seventeen year old Japanese boy swept the board winning a unanimous vote from the audience and jury even though competing against prodigiously talented young colleagues.One of the jury members ,Stanislav Ioudenitch,winner of the Van Cliburn Competition in 2001,exclaimed that Shunta was the most talented young musician he had ever come across.Shunta’s appearance at the 2019 young Cliburn competition was noted when his you tube performances at such a young age went viral on internet platforms.His you tube performance of Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto in Tokyo at the age of 15 created a similar sensation.Luckily this now teenage prodigy encountered William Grant Naboré who was giving classes in Japan and he agreed to take Shunta under his wing.He has been supervising his prodigious talent at his home in Rome where Shunta is also enrolled at the S.Cecilia Conservatory.
Naboré,founder of the International Piano Academy in Lake Como insists that a young musician should learn as much repertoire as possible at a very early age.Repertoire that should consist mainly of the great classics of the piano repertoire in order to expand horizons and goals.It would have been so easy for Shunta to do the rounds playing Rachmaninov Third Concerto and Liszt Venezia e Napoli and to be feted by a world hungry to see a note spinning wizz kid.It was Rachmaninov who told the child prodigy Shura Cherkassky that he would only consider teaching him if he gave up all public performances in order to study calmly and in depth without a public deadline looming up on the horizon.Hoffman on the other hand was very happy to teach the young Shura and allow him to be exploited as a ‘wunderkind’as he himself had been.Of course Shura’s parents would have been aghast at the thought of not being able to promote this child as a prodigy – Shura had even discovered at the end of his life on his return home to Odessa when he was in his eighties ,that they had taken two years off his birth date.
It was on Naboré’s insistence the reason that Shunta won the first prize in Hastings not playing Rachmaninov or Liszt but presenting the Schumann Piano Concerto.A concerto full of poetry and beauty where a real understanding of the deep inner meaning within the notes and a sense of style and architectural shape are fundamental to a meaningful interpretation.It was this the reasoning, too,behind making his orchestral debut with Beethoven’s most poetic and pastoral Fourth concerto rather than the imperious and more spectacular Emperor.Shunta will though be playing Liszt’s First Concerto with the RPO in May.So all work and no play ……..as the saying goes and Shunta certainly knows how to play.In the meantime he has acquired a maturity way above his eighteen years.Added to a technical mastery and an inquisitive searching musicality it led to one of the most extraordinary performances of Beethoven’s most poetic concerto that I have heard.
From the opening chords it was obvious that we were going to hear something very special.Five bars in which one can immediately appreciate the musicianship and the ability to control sound and colour and which show the pedigree of a true interpreter.It was indeed a trial of fire for a young pianist making his much vaunted debut with a world famous orchestra that was just waiting to reply to his opening golden gauntlet.Shunta chose the ideal tempo that was to colour the whole movement but also a subtlety of phrasing that managed to capture the spirit of improvisation that was obviously Beethoven’s intent.The magical dovetailing of the final three notes were thrown off with the same aristocratic ease that I remember of Rubinstein.
The tempo was immediately picked up by the twenty six year old Adam Hickox whose fluidity and beauty of movements were mirrored by Shunta’s natural ease and intense concentration.Infact throughout the performance it was a joy to see them looking at each other as in a real chamber music ensemble with one inspiring the other on a musical voyage of discovery of which we were privileged eavesdroppers.Shunta’s seemless runs were like streaks of silver blossoming into trills that were mere vibrations of ravishing beauty.Dynamic drive was contrasted with the same artistocratic timeless melodic outpouring which Beethoven surprisingly marks pianissimo and espressivo.But this was a pianissimo of real weight that carried the golden sounds above the orchestra to the back of the hall.A magic trick of balance and relaxed weight.It is like an actor that has a diaphragm that can project the words “I love you’ with the same intensity to those in the front row of the theatre as those in the ‘Gods’.It is a technical mastery allied to the supreme artistry of only the greatest of interpreters.There was such playfulness as he accompanied the duet between the bassoon and the clarinet commenting with glistening cascades of notes gently tumbling downwards only to be regenerated.There was magic in the air as he accompanied the orchestra leading to the violence of sforzandi that Shunta was not afraid to chisel with brilliance and dynamic rhythmic energy.Leading to the long held trills that dissolved into a moment of sublime inspiration that Beethoven marks dolce e con espressione.Beethoven’s sublime inspiration was also Shunta’s in a moment where time seemed to stand still.Playing the long cadenza of the two that Beethoven had written out – they were most probably improvised by the composer and written down only afterwards.Shunta managed to convey this improvisary maze searching for a way out.The great bass octaves of the opening rhythmic pattern were given a desolate beseeching cry that led to a long golden belcanto embellishment that Shunta played with improvised freedom.Unwinding into the trill where the orchestra enters in what must be the most magical unwinding of a cadenza of all time.A moment of pure magic- Beethoven’s but aided by Shunta and Adam and the superb musicians of the RPO.
Talking to Shunta after the performance he could not understand why he did not feel he had found the same inspiration as in the dress rehearsal in the Andante con moto second movement.It was certainly not evident to the public or the orchestral musicians as Shunta barely stroked the keys in reply to their insistent rhythmic assertions.He held us all in his spell until the tumultuous long trill over which there is a questioning and answering of unexpected violence.It was this passage that Martha Argerich remembered from her childhood ,of hearing a performance by Arrau of such towering authority that she never attempted to play this concerto herself.Shunta played it with force and dynamism,never harsh or ungrateful but of overpowering energy and effect.It dissolved into the final whispered cadence where Shunta’s perfect ability to project the most delicate of sounds created an atmosphere that only the whispered energy of the Rondo could interrupt.A final note that Shunta was able to allow to shine like the jewel in the crown it truly is .A Rondo of great freedom and charm with Beethoven’s startling bursts of energy magnificently realised by Shunta and the orchestra.Interrupted by the ‘short’ cadenza that Beethoven himself penned that was played with a dry rhythmic drive that opened the gates to the final bars of this masterpiece.Final bars played with delicacy and eloquence mixed with driving rhythmic fury.
By great demand Shunta was invited by the orchestra and conductor to play an encore.No lollipops or teasing crowd pleasers but a deeply meditative Intermezzo op 116 by Brahms that surprisingly for us all turned into a scintillating Sarabande by Rameau.An ornamentation of well oiled springs that would have made even Sokolov proud.
Two for the price of one and is typical of this voyage of continual discovery .The exhilaration of sharing his euphoric discovery and love of music with us.It is a sign of the joy he will continue to share so generously with a world that awaits in a long and prosperous career.
Beethoven’s fourth piano Concerto op 58 was composed in 1805–1806 and was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert of the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz.The Coriolan Overture and the Fourth Symphony were premiered in that same concert.However, the public premiere was not until a concert on the 22 December 1808 at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien .Beethoven again took the stage as soloist. The marathon concert saw Beethoven’s last appearance as a soloist with orchestra, as well as the premieres of the Choral Fantasy and the Fifth and Sixth symphonies.Beethoven dedicated the concerto to his friend, student, and patron, the Archduke Rudolph
A review in the May 1809 edition of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung states that ” this concerto is the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever”.However, after its first performance, the piece was neglected until 1836, when it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn.