Review / Nagano recital a ‘privilege to attend’

Music / Kotaro Nagano Recital. At the Wesley Music Centre, July 14. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE

Japanese award-winning international harpsichordist and pianist Kotaro Nagano… wooing an extraordinary range of expressions and moods from his instrument. Photo by Peter Hislop

THE harpsichord is not an easy instrument to play. It demands exceptional technique to extract voice and expression because its mechanics are not like a piano where the pianist’s touch drives the expression.

Regardless of how hard or soft the musician depresses a key, the volume doesn’t vary. The volume comes from the number of keys played at any one time and whether the instrument has mechanical devices – “stops” – that can couple one part of the keyboard(s) with another.

But Japanese award-winning international harpsichordist and pianist Kotaro Nagano was able to woo an extraordinary range of expressions and moods from his instrument, featured in the first part of his recital. Even the rather staid music from the 15th and 16th centuries came to life under Nagano’s hands.

I could see Louis XIV reclining on his lounge in Versailles, listening to the music of Louis Couperin. I could hear hints of “Danny Boy” in the melodious piece, “Konomichi”, written in 1930 by Japanese composer, Kosaku Yamada. And another charming Japanese piece, “Machibouke”, evoked images of dance, followed by a lullaby and then back to the dance.

When Nagano moved to the piano, despite a rather unpleasant shrill in the voicing of a couple of notes at the top end of the keyboard, he mesmerised his audience with his captivating playing of the music of Chopin and Liszt. Thoughtful and imaginative interpretations, truly exquisite touch, marvellous phrasing and a very special and sensitive connection to the music delivered a performance of unrivalled beauty.

There were favourites mixed with some not-so-well-known works. One favourite was Chopin’s Waltz in D-flat Major, the so-called “Minute Waltz” (“Tiny Waltz”), given a lyricism I have never heard before, with the middle section sounding as if it had come straight from the pen of Johann Strauss II.

Another favourite, Liszt’s “Liebesträume No. 3” was packed so full of emotion I just wanted it to continue, the enthusiastic applause rudely interrupting the mood created by this fabulous musician.

Kotaro Nagano generously gave three encores, including the popular second movement from Beethoven’s “Pathetique” piano sonata, with a piece by Brahms finishing a recital that was a privilege to attend.


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