Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Exquisite tone production from pianist Nagano

Polish Dance
Kotaro Nagano, piano
At the Embassy of Poland, March 27

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Ben James is congratulated by Ambassador Kołodziejski. Photo: Peter Hislop
Japanese pianist Kotaro Nagano presented an exquisitely played program of Polish and German piano music at the Polish Embassy.

Nagano is a tone production expert, a style of playing that has its roots firmly in the 19th century piano school of Theodore Leschetizky, coincidently, also Polish. Nagano’s playing focusses on melody with exquisite tone production, beauty and legato, combining power with delicate shading and a fluid right hand technique, attributes which he showcased in everything he played.

The event began however with the bestowing of the Decoration of Honour for Merit to Polish Culture on “Friends of Chopin” president, Ben James, by Ambassador Michał Kołodziejski, on behalf of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.

“Ben James’ passion for the music and culture of Poland is widely known both in Poland and Australia” said Ambassador Kołodziejski. “He works with tireless dedication and boundless energy in promoting the music of Frédéric Chopin”.

Mr James thanked the ambassador and the Ministry of Culture in Poland and also thanked the entire committee of the Friends, as well as the committee of the Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, of which he has been Liaison Director and General Manager.

Pianist Kotaro Nagano. PD
Nagano commenced his piano recital with three pieces by Polish composer Moniuszko. Reflecting the evening’s theme of “dance”, the opening Villanella was followed by a Mazurka and a Polonaise, the latter featuring strongly rhythmed left-hand melody contrasted with sonorous flowing right-hand splashes and melodic motives. It was a joyous and majestic reading, filled with energy, beautiful tone production and assurity.

Schumann’s “Papillons Op.2” followed. Composed in 1831, the title of this superb piano suite means “butterflies” in French. Nagano played the entire work flawlessly, but this was not just an exercise in technique. Once again his tone production was so beautiful, the piano sang out as if 88 voices were emanating from its spruce sound-board. A glorious rendition from someone who knows how to extract sounds of wonder and joy from an instrument.

To close, at least what was printed on the program (oh, yes, encores a-plenty followed), the pianist chose three pieces by Chopin. The “Polonaise in C Sharp Minor Op.26” began somewhat reservedly, in contrast to most of the recordings and performances I’ve heard over the last 40 years. Now, this was intriguing because as the piece progressed, the intensity grew, but by incremental amounts. The accounts of Chopin’s own playing were of varying degrees of pianissimo, never really reaching a true fortissimo. I liked the way Nagano held back and allowed the audience to savour the beauty of melody and harmony, rather than being abused by a wall of sound.

The famous “Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante Op.22” closed the program. Oddly the pianist chose to slightly abridge the introduction to the Polonaise section - not sure why. Aside from that, it too was a marvellous performance.

Kotaro Nagano is truly a poet of the piano and a testament to the brilliance of Chopin and how his music should be played.

First published in City New Digital Edition March 29, 2019 and also on Tony's blog, Art Music Theatre