Who Jon Nakamatsu, piano
What Guest Artist at Le Moyne College
Where Panasci Family Chapel
People lined the walls of Le Moyne College’s Panasci Family Chapel to hear pianist Jon Nakamatsu on Thursday evening. Seated at a seven-foot Steinway in the center of the crowd, Nakamatsu’s warmth was every bit as impressive as his impeccable taste, lightning-fast technique, and staggering lyricism.
Nakamatsu opened with Rameau’s Gavotte et Doubles, adorning the exposed, transparent writing with dripping ornamentation. Articulation as exacting and precise as his made the intention of this Baroque piece as alluring as the romantic works performed later on the concert.
Especially intriguing was Nakamatsu’s use of the una corda pedal. He used it sparingly, drawing listeners in with his impossibly quiet phrases.
When Nakamatsu returned to the stage to perform the first Brahms piano sonata, his hands sounded the first, grand chord before he was fully seated on the bench. The welcoming, eager introduction was quickly juxtaposed with the profound sensitivity for which Nakamatsu is known.
His ability to represent two separate characters with each hand is the work of a magician. His right hand gave a bright melody while his left accompanied with a different quality of sound—as if he was using the una corda for only the left hand, which is, of course, impossible.
The Beethoven influence was clear in the first movement of the Brahms, the boisterous chords played with vigor and force. The second movement’s purity made you think of your selfless mother, whether you had one or not. In the fourth movement, he displayed Lisztian technique, with chromatic runs at the speed of a glissando.
Nakamatsu generally played with a poker face, which in no way inhibited his emotional communication. He doesn’t exhibit the theatrics of Lang Lang or so many other classical musicians, but he doesn’t need to.
After an intermission, Nakamatsu took the microphone to talk about Liszt. He discussed the polarizing effect this composer’s music has on its listeners, a subject very close to my heart. Liszt went through varying phases in his composition, and Nakamatsu considers the 3 Petrarch Sonnets he performed to be among his most sublime. Despite my firm aversion to Liszt, Nakamatsu’s playing shocked me into a full reconsideration.
The first sonnet (47) begged you to close your eyes and dive into the whimsical, offbeat melody. You barely heard the sparkling technique because the melody was so lovely. Nakamatsu treated the music with the delicacy of a sleeping infant, the result as soft and sweet.
If you’re a Lisztophobe, you’re probably a Chopinophile. Nakamatsu presented the signature singing melody of Chopin’s Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brilliante, Op. 22 as though the voice was heard from a distance. He called the audience to attention with the beginning of the Polonaise, weaving the saltier character with such ease that the audience chuckled. The final, bold notes were perfectly spaced, like every other phrase in the concert. Nakamatsu has the timing of a great comedian.
Back to Liszt for an encore, this time the “Tarantella” from Venezia e Napoli. Nakamatsu’s stamina was astonishing, this piece flashier than everything else combined.
Nakamatsu’s ability to combine rippling technique with nostalgia and poignancy is phenomenal. Every bit of his performance was a privilege.