It's only March 1, and already I can say it's been a banner year forlocal enthusiasts of the piano repertoire and of top-notch pianists.
In January, terrific Mozart, Rachmaninov and Liszt was offered upby John Browning, the virtuoso American pianist who performed so wonderfully on the Naval Academy's Distinguished Artists Series.
And this past Wednesday evening, the Japanese pianist Minoru Nojima was presented in recital under the auspices of the Anne Arundel Concert Association over at Severna Park High School.
Nojima won theSilver Medal at the 1969 Van Cliburn Competition and has gone on to fashion an international career that features orchestral and recital appearances in American, Europe and Japan, as well as a pair of well-received CD's; a Liszt anthology on one, and the "Miroirs" and Gaspard de la Nuit" of Maurice Ravel on the other.
It was to Ravel's extraordinary "Miroirs" ("Mirrors") that Nojima turned on Wednesday, combining that compendium of five pieces with Debussy's complete Second Book of Preludes and Mozart's K. 545 Sonata (the one in C Major that everybody knows).
The inescapable conclusion of the evening was that the pianist is a gifted interpreter of the music of Debussy and Ravel, France's two foremost musical geniuses of the 20th century.
The impressionistic compositions of Debussy and Ravel quickly deplete the expressive resources of run-of-the-mill pianists. Only a true colorist can bring this music to life. The sonorities that make these works so sensual and suggestive are elusive to say the least and can only be captured by an artist capable of creating a richly diverse spectrum of beautiful sounds.
But this ear for color must be complemented by other attributes that are equally hard to come by. The shifting emotional terrain of the Debussy Preludes can only be navigated by a pianist of true sensitivity and imagination. The same is true for Ravel's shimmering "Noctuelles" ("Night Moths"), his searching "Oiseaux Tristes" ("Sad Birds"), and the other three pieces that make up "Miroirs."
Nojima possesses these gifts in abundance. Like the miniaturist painters of his native country, he combines brush strokes of great refinement with an organic energy that impart true impetus and passion to the musical canvas despite the delicacy of its composition.
His tone is exceptionally beautiful at all dynamic levels, never losing it's center even in the most animated passages.
Moreover, his emotional connection to these works is synergetic. The arpeggiated haze in Debussy's first Prelude "Brouilliards" ("Mists") positively swirls. "Feuilles Mortes" ("Dead Leaves"), while rustic enough, is also darkly delineated, full of ominous forebodings of the coming of winter.
The eighth Prelude, "Canope," takes on an air of unmistakablemystery as Debussy contemplate the enigma of Canopus vases, leftoverrelics from the glory that was ancient Egypt. Nojima brings home each and every harmonic question mark Debussy tosses into the music as the composer ponders the meaning of our exotic past.
The pianist's affinity for Ravel is similarly profound. "La Valle des Cloches" ("The Valley of the Bells") is mystical and touching and the "Alborado" is as Hispanically --ing as one could want.
Nojima's Mozart, thoughpleasant, came off sounding innocuous, nestled as it was between thetwo larger works with which the pianist so completely identified. For the audience, however, the little Sonata seemed to serve as a welcome respite from the more demanding French works.
I could tell thisbecause the coughing decreased dramatically. Throughout the Preludesand "Miroirs," the Severna Park auditorium sounded more like an emphysema ward than a concert hall.