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Blu-ray Review

Touching The Sound

The Improbable Journey of Nobuyuki Tsujii

A film by Peter Rosen
Nobuyuki Tsujii, piano
Various orchestras
EuroArts Blu-ray 2059834 70m LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan
Also available on DVD 2059038: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan

I have reviewed two of Nobuyuki Tsujii's recordings here at Classical Net – his recital disc (EuroArts DVD 2059088) that featured Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and works by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt, and his recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 (EuroArts Blu-ray 2059354). Both were splendid efforts; no, miraculous efforts. Why? Tsujii is blind. But not only is he blind – he is a brilliant pianist, even when compared with sighted pianists of great stature. Despite his disability he won first prize at the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition, with Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang. This disc, as the heading suggests, is not a recital or concert offering, but a documentary on the pianist's life and career.

Tsujii's parents filmed him from his early childhood, when he played a toy piano at Christmastime from around the age of two. Eventually they bought him a real piano and he showed astonishing talent. His obviously very devoted and attentive mother expressed fears she might be unable to deal with the difficulties of raising a blind child. She needn't have worried, at least about his musical inclinations: Tsujii advanced rapidly, from schoolboy prodigy to teenage genius. Disappointment came, however, when he entered the 2005 Chopin Competition at 17 but didn't make it to the finals. Four years later, though, he entered the Cliburn and, as they say, the rest is history. He has become a keyboard superstar since, playing at major concert venues across the globe including Carnegie Hall.

The latter part of the video deals with Tsujii's concern for his homeland of Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, subsequent tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster. But this video documentary is more than a biography or promotional film about a pianist – it documents a grand triumph over adversity, over human frailty. Indeed, Tsujii conquers blindness and Japan rebounds from a horrible tragedy. This is, in the realm of classical music as well as in day-to-day living, one of the great feel-good films. You want Tsujii to succeed, and he does! You can't help but stand in awe of Tsujii's achievements and his brilliant artistry. In short, this is a splendid documentary of a great artist. By the way, his last name is pronounced su-jee-ee.

The only thing missing here is that filmmaker Peter Rosen didn't include any complete performances by Tsujii. There's a nearly complete performance of Debussy's Arabesque #1 (twice) and large snippets from Rachmaninov, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Beethoven, Mussorgsky and others, including Tsujii's own piece Elegy for the Victims of the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011. Oh, the song Flowers Will Bloom, sung by Japanese children who are accompanied by Tsujii, may well be complete. I am not familiar with it, but it is more about the children and their message of hope than about Tsujii's performance. One other omission here, some people appearing in the film are not identified. For example, Pianist Menahem Pressler expresses high praise for the Tsujii and his extraordinary gifts, but unless you can recognize Pressler from the concert hall, you won't know who is speaking. Pressler, by the way, was on the jury of the 2009 Cliburn Competition and also served in that capacity in the 2013 competition as well. The camera work and sound reproduction are excellent and all other technical features are first rate. Despite the small timing of 70 minutes and lack of a complete performance by Tsujii, this disc is still highly recommendable. It is inspiring in a way you can't quite understand until you see it. Anyone viewing this disc is likely to become a lifelong admirer of Nobuyuki Tsujii. He is an incredibly inspiring artist. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings