He won the gold medal, and a career was born.
A San Jose native who still lives in the
A pianist himself, Rachmaninoff composed the work in 1909, practicing its outlandishly difficult solo part on a dummy keyboard during a cross-Atlantic journey to
While it is a finger-busting piano showcase, the concerto also is an example of consummate orchestral workmanship, exacting in the ways it continually replenishes, varies and reintegrates its flammable materials. Conductor
The pianist's 40-minute performance was one of stamina, for sure, though he created the illusion of utter ease.
From his opening bars -- following that pulsing moment of expectancy in the orchestra -- his playing flowed and sang, thanks to his vividly voiced chords, his tapered phrasing and articulation. He literally played thousands of notes -- from memory, of course -- and there was the sense of being able to hear each and every one of them, whether he was in the spotlight (as in the first movement's exciting cadenza) or blending with and accompanying the orchestra.
The Adagio floated through moments that were like a collective sigh for soloist and orchestra, as well as passages of cross-handed speed-racing from Nakamatsu that kept this listener at the edge of his seat. Amid the orchestra's mounting and rhapsodic harmonies -- templates for Gershwin -- Nakamatsu uncorked fizzy champagne streams, churning toccata ornamentations and galloping syncopations, as well as double-barreled chording up and down the keyboard. One might say he laid it on thick, but -- what the heck -- it's Rachmaninoff.
There was one more explosion: the roar of the crowd, as it jumped to its feet. After his third set of bows, Nakamatsu played an encore, Schumann's "Widmung," as arranged for piano by Liszt. More elegance. More song.
And lest I forget, the program began with a performance of Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, as orchestrated by
One could see the very shape of the music in Kamensek's gestures, though the orchestra was not quite "there" yet, especially in the two inner movements, where the sectional interplay grew gnarly. Still, there was much to enjoy.
The weekend's additional performances should bring Schoenberg's dense score into better focus. At Friday's performance, the finale was best. Taken at a clip, its Hungarian-style dances sounded great. They crackled.
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