On Friday night, the audience at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Masterworks concert witnessed an amazing up-and-coming artist. From the moment Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii walked on stage, we knew we were witnessing someone about who we will come to say, "I heard him when..."
Nobu, as he is known, showed every requisite quality for a pianist to succeed. He has complete control of the instrument, shows depth of expression and perception, mind-boggling technique and dexterity and musicianship to spare.
He was led onto the stage by conductor Alexander Mickelthwate because he has been blind since he was born, but that was the extent that his disability affected his performance and ability to captivate an audience.
Nobu showed musical talent from a very young age and was fortunate to work with a teacher who developed a special technique for him to learn major works that were either too cumbersome in Braille or not available.
He has an impressive résumé, as the co-winner of first prize at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and performances with every major orchestra in Japan, the BBC Philharmonic and a sold-out debut recital at Carnegie Hall.
For Friday's concert, he played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major and attacked it with immediate, fluent intensity. He captured the stateliness and humour of the opening Andante, giving it just the right degree of panache. To the more sultry section, Nobu applied a fantasy-like touch. The most technically demanding passages posed no problem for him -- and this is not a work for the timid. He took them at breakneck speed.
Rapturous phrases with an almost improvisatory nature were highlights of the Theme and Variations, with soloist and orchestra in perfect stylistic synch. Nobu's hands flew across the keyboard in syncopated glory, every variation showing the depth of his virtuosity.
The final movement displayed him at his most powerful and most sensitive -- at first pounding away, then playing the most simple of melodies with his right hand. Rippling runs were a blur of speed.
Nobu is just embarking on his life as a musician. In a recent interview with the Free Press he acknowledged that, saying, "I'm just at the beginning of my professional career. I have a long wish list of pieces I want to play in public." After Friday night's performance, you can be sure his public is anxiously waiting to hear them.
The concert opened with a great attention-getter, Gyrgi Ligeti's folk-inspired Concert Rom¢nesc, full of interesting twists and turns and impressive solo work, including concertmaster Gwen Hoebig as a nimble gypsy violinist, French horns in a noble representation of alphorns, sexy clarinet playing and a piercing piccolo.
Mickelthwate communicated every nuance of Dvorák's Symphony No. 7 to complete the evening. All the vigour and passion was there, from the pleasing reflections of the Bohemian countryside to the fiery scherzo, this was a performance of grace and splendour. The WSO was in top form.
The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m.
Nobuyuki Tsujii with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Centennial Concert Hall
Jan. 18 Attendance: 847
****1/2 out of five