I first encountered the incredible blind pianist Nobuykui Tsujii in 2012 when I reviewed a EuroArts DVD here at ClassicalNet (EuroArts DVD 2059088) of his acclaimed live Carnegie Hall recital that featured Mussorgsky's Pictures and works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Stephen Foster, and John Musto. I had high praise for Tsujii then and here on this new Blu-ray disc he again turns in fine work.
Tsujii's Tchaikovsky First is a solid well played version that, while not displacing the renditions by Cliburn/Kondrashin, Richter/Karajan, and several by Argerich, will please the listener for its lushly lyrical approach and fairly straightforward manner. No eccentricities here, though there are some imbalances in the sound: clarinet and flute are sometimes given too much prominence in the sound field, but that might be by design in Gergiev's shaping of the score. It's a minor quibble and overall the orchestral sound is fine. More importantly, the orchestra plays splendidly in the concerto. There are some very minor imprecisions in tutti chords between orchestra and pianist, but for a live concert the performance is thoroughly convincing in almost every respect. It is of course amazing that Tsujii's blindness does not prevent him from getting through the most difficult parts, including the several challenging octave passages. But that's one of the reasons why he is so incredible to watch.
The encores are well performed too: both the Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky pieces are given sensitive interpretations, and in Tsujii's own Elegy, which he also played on his Carnegie Hall recital disc, he effectively conveys the gentle, lovely consolation of the music. The audience loved his performances and clearly was moved by this charismatic artist. The camera work and sound reproduction are fine.
With much attention undoubtedly focused on the first half of the concert, the dark and gut-wrenching Shostakovich Symphony #14 might be pushed to the back burner by some listeners. It's a powerful work, but not in sound: it's scored for soprano and bass soloists and a chamber orchestra of strings and percussion. Shostakovich mavens rightly cite this as one of the composer's most masterly late works. While it's austere and won't likely endear itself to those just discovering Shostakovich, it is a piece whose dark lyricism and ghostly rhythms become haunting upon repeated hearings.
In the work Shostakovich sets eleven poems: two by Lorca, six by Apollinaire, one by Küchelbecker and two by Rilke. Typically the subject matter is death, particularly as it comes unjustly or prematurely. The Dies Irae theme (used in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass) is often quoted by Shostakovich, and there really isn't a happy moment anywhere in the work. Shostakovich was a sick man when he wrote it, and those who know his output well are aware that he grew increasingly pessimistic and dark in his late music. His last quartet (#15), for example, consists of six adagio movements of generally sad or morbid character. Here the moods are not much brighter, though the rhythmic aspects of the piece offer effective contrast to the often gray character of the slower music.
Soloists Olga Sergeyeva and Yuri Vorobiev turn in excellent performances and Gergiev draws fine playing from the orchestra. There have been some excellent versions of this work, including the Rostropovich (with his wife Galina Vishnevskaya and Mark Reshetin) and Yuli Turovsky (with Elizabeth Holleque and Nikolai Storojev). This version by Gergiev is thoroughly convincing and I hesitate to make comparisons, not least because this is an excellent video production in superb sound and those two older recordings are on CD only. Actually, as far as I know this Gergiev effort is currently the only video recording of the Shostakovich 14th.
All in all then, this is most satisfying disc and thus deserves my strong recommendation.
Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings