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24 03 2007 - NY Times MUSIC REVIEW-Tjeknavorian
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MUSIC REVIEW; Bending Toward Elegance With a Virtuosic Efficiency Print Save Share Digg Facebook Newsvine Permalink By BERNARD HOLLAND Published: March 16, 2007Liszt's piano music is something between a mirror and a lie detector. Think flashy and self-serving as you play it, and so it responds. Think better thoughts, and the music transforms itself. Jon Nakamatsu, playing three Liszt pieces at the end of his recital at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, reminded us that there are also gradations in between. This young American pianist has stunning technical control and can do anything at the piano he wants; in ''Après une lecture de Dante'' there was octave playing as clean and fast as any I have ever heard. But I think Mr. Nakamatsu has more of a wish for elegance. The ''Valse-Impromptu'' and the ''Impromptu for Princess Gortschakoff'' distanced themselves from the virtuoso noise surrounding them on the program and offered refinement of detail at relatively quiet levels. Mr. Nakamatsu's languid, sighing and yet tasteful sense of phrase fit Liszt well. I liked it less in the Chopin F-sharp Nocturne and C-sharp minor Scherzo, in which stagy hesitations tended to stop melodic line in its tracks. The high-speed coda of the Scherzo was a wonder of machine-tooled efficiency. Mr. Nakamatsu seemed most naturally himself in Rachmaninoff's ''Corelli'' Variations, which went very well. The four Scarlatti sonatas at the concert's start asked the question: Does this music -- with its paradox of decorum and wild adventure, and its biting harpsichord tone -- work on the piano? I think yes, but not if you play it, as this pianist does, using all the colors and flexibilities the piano allows. Forget gradual softs to louds; forget sustaining pedals and rainbows of sound. The piano has to sound like ice. Six Dances by Loris Tjeknavorian demonstrated the thrall in which folk music holds small nations and cultures. Mr. Tjeknavorian puts Armenian and Iranian tradition in our hand as if they were passports. There is the kind of grace and imagination that this composer's loyalties inspire here, but there are also the limitations that cultural patriotism always seem to incorporate. Mr. Tjeknavorian is the thoughtful, entertaining servant but he speaks more for others than himself.


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