Color from the Caucasus
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
Nicolas Namoradze: Memories of Rachmaninoff’s Georgian Song
Johann Sebastian Bach: French Suite No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2, Opus 27: 3. Adagio (arr. Namoradze)
Győrgy Ligeti: Etudes No. 11 “En suspens” & No. 15 “Pour Irina”
Franz Schubert: Sonata in B‑flat Major, D. 960
Nicolas Namoradze (Pianist)
“Georgians treat you like royalty, and the odds are you’ll do a lot of eating, drinking and toasting. And everyone sings there. I mean, it’s all they do. So at eight, I heard a lot of Georgian singing, which is often really complicated, with seven- or eight-part harmonies.”
Never having visited the Republic of Georgia, my only knowledge comes from the fabulous wines, the reputation of fearlessness–and the massive monastery bells. The largest is the millennium-old Gelati Bell. And that segues into a most original recital by Georgian‑born, Hungarian/American-educated Nicolas Namoradze.
This month’s nightly “International Keyboard Institute and Festival” is–to say the least–diverse. ici, they presented a Liszt‑Chopin program. Last night, the cool Nicolas Namoradze presented music inclining to show Mr. Namoradze’s less virtuosity as to show his sensitivity and extraordinary tone-coloration. As well as his compositional skills.
Back to the bells. Mr. Namoradze started with his puzzling title Memories of Rachmaninoff’s Georgian Song. The “song” was actually a series of tolling bells. First in the treble staff, then deep into the bass (obviously the sound of the Gelati bell), up to the top, with many a figuration in between. What was Rachmaninoff’s original song? We never knew. It may have been hidden amidst the minimalist tolling, or simply ignored. But Mr. Namoradze’ mesmeric Glass‑like moments set the stage for his eclectic recital.
Not that the two Ligeti Etudes were a total change. Once again, they gave space for Mr. Namoradze’s lucidity and unassuming confidence. The complete series of Ligeti’s Etudes will be performed later this year by Taka Kigawa, and that should be truly exciting. Mr. Namoradze gave us a taste.
He started with a relatively quiet, almost tender “In Suspense” work, played with soothing grace. The next began with equal grace–but with typical surprise (as if anything in Ligeti is typical!)–suddenly increased tempo to a dazzling finish.
In all three opening works, Mr. Namoradze was almost spiritually sensitive. Not that he eschewed the fireworks when necessary. But his was not a Chopin‑ish decorousness. More a delight in translucent color.
The complete change of pace was Bach’s First French Suite, given an unagitated performance. Six dances played with natural directness. No added trills or mordents, a subtle sense of sadness in the “Sarabande,” and a sure-handed mastery of the closing “Gigue.” Nothing idiosyncratic, just pure music played with respect for Bach’s notes.
The only question in the first half was Mr. Namoradze’s undeniably brilliant transcription of the Adagio movement from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. First, yes, Mr. Namoradze did give a mighty piano replica of the original. Second, yes, he added his own little filigrees to the movement, which the composer himself might have admired.
And yet...and yet this was still a tour de force. A work where Mr. Namoradze glowed, where his artistry was apparent. But oh, with such fingering, such a genius for Russian music (like his Scriabin encores) I wanted the original Rachmaninoff, the composer for the Steinway. This was a crowd‑pleaser, and a worthy one. But a few Etudes-Tableaux might wisely replaced the arrangement.
The second half was devoted to Schubert’s final sonata. So cryptic, filled with so many shadowy clues, so many semiotic tonal words, that one can listen to any masterful musician play it. Each time, the chthonic wrestles with the joyful. And no pianist can possibly be successful.
Mr. Namoradze’s youth saw these daring first two movements moved along steadily to tell their kabbalistic stories. His pauses were long, the rubati were frequent, but these all added to the story‑telling. The last two movements were played with a jaunty articulation, a 26‑year‑old pianist playing music of a 31‑year‑old composer trying his best to avoid the specter of oncoming death.
In fact, Nicolas Namoradze has much life to offer. His delight, accomplishment and sensory mastery promises more challenges, even risks in his glowing future.
CODA: The death of Milan Kundera this week was celebrated, rightly, as the passing of a fine novelist. In fact, The Joke was one of the great satires against the Communist/Fascist society where he lived his first years. His essays about “being European” was equally thoughtful, brave and anything but polemic. Barely mentioned, though, was Kundera as a music critic. More specifically, a music essayist. Sometimes essays by themselves, sometimes within his novels. Not Janácek, of course–though his studies are unparalleled. But his essays on Stravinsky, Martinů and other composers were always lucid, always enlightening. Even at the age of 94, this French/Czech artist died too young. He will be missed.