June 03, 2003
Jon Nakamatsu

Presumably one of the purposes of a blog like this is to recommend works of art - or, in the case of classical music, performances of works of art - which might otherwise not come to the attention of interested readers. Recommending a recording by one of the all-time greats is somewhat superfluous, although it can still make sense if you've something special to say about it. But perhaps it makes more sense to give a tiny blog-push to a career that has never quite caught fire, or to one which, although crackling along nicely, is still in its early stages.

In this latter spirit allow me to commend to your attention a beautiful Chopin CD, by Jon Nakamatsu.

I first heard this on Radio 3. I often start Saturday morning by listening to the BBC's Record Review, but don't always get up before or while starting to listen to it. Sometimes I doze off again. So it was one Saturday morning about two years ago. When I re-awoke it was to the heavenly sound of this recording, and in particular to track 5, the Fantasy on Polish Airs op. 13, which I notice is listed at the top of the list on the cover of the CD.

And it is no wonder, for it is a wonder. It is not one of Chopin's very greatest pieces, but all disbelief is suspended during Nakamatsu's playing of it, the delicacy and accuracy of which is remarkable. As a reviewer at the site reached by my first link above says:

Mr. Nakamatsu's Chopin interpretation is absolutely beautiful and poetic, and it does not suffer from the quirky eccentricities that some performers add into their interpretations - instead, it is fresh, clear, precise, dynamic, and captivating.

Exactly so.

There are many ways for piano recordings to be wonderful, and being "perfect" is only one of them. Nevertheless this is very special indeed. I can sum up the pleasure I get from this CD by saying, first, that I entirely agree with and like and admire what Nakamatsu is trying to do with each piece, and second, that I have never had more strongly the feeling that the pianist is getting exactly, in all possible respects, what he wants.

Nakamatsu's most recent recording is of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, a favourite piece of mine. I have not heard this, but am not as impatient to hear this as you might expect. This is because this is not a piece which responds well to "perfect" performances, or even performances which aspire to perfection. My favourite performances of Rachmaninoff 3 are the ones that go for broke, and which get far further than a perfectionist like Nakamatsu might dare to attempt. I may take all this back when I hear Nakamatsu in this pece, but reviews I've read suggest that my fears may prove justified. (By the way, I now have a copy of the recording that I wrote about at the other end of that link.)

But the Chopin disc is wonderful.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:18 PM
Category: Classical music