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NOT yet 30 years of age, Japanese-born Kotaro Nagano is is a most impressive keyboard player who is working hard at not allowing himself to be pigeonholed into any particular genre.
The first half of this concert was (mostly) 16th century music played on clavichord and harpsichord. The second half was late 19th/early 20th century music by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov on the Wesley’s Yamaha grand piano. He seemed equally as comfortable on all three keyboards with what must have been a totally different feel to each one.
The works in the first half were mostly Italian, with William Byrd’s “The Battle” and a couple of French dance tunes to mix it up.
The Byrd piece is an early example of program music in nine short sections that represent the various stages of a military skirmish and was very popular in Elizabethan times. He shifted between the harpsichord and clavichord for different parts, using the buzzy clavichord sound to suggest military drums.
Much of :The Battle” is in dance tempos and Nagano showed precision and clean phrasing in playing this music. This was also well demonstrated in the two anonymous branles published in the early 1530s, which he captured with a delightful danceable feel.
Nagano carried over the precision and phrasing into the second half shifting the music forward 300 years.
All six works were played from memory with the first work, “Troika” – November from Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” showing a noticeable crispness in the performance.
He followed this with four preludes and an etude-tableau by Rachmaninov, which were all played with power and composure. After the relative modesty of the harpsichord’s sound and the delicacy of the clavichord, the piano was a little like having a rock band in the room, especially when Nagano was pushing it a little. This instrument has a cascade of harmonics that can hang, almost painfully, in the air and, at times, it seemed a bit much for the room.
This was a most satisfying concert of two very different styles and eras of music and it will be fascinating to follow this young man’s career in years to come.
It was a pleasure to hear half a concert on the Wesley’s harpsichord and it was noted that it will get another outing on February 21 with a lunchtime concert at the centre by Ariana Odermatt.