Liszt: The Dante Sonata and other works

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: The Dante Sonata and other works
PERFORMER: Jon Nakamatsu (piano)
The Californian Jon Nakamatsu won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn Competition in 1997. His previous recordings have displayed consummate professionalism and accomplished technical security of the sort that often wins approval at high-profile competitions, without achieving a level of engaging communication and vibrant music-making that would compete with the wealth of back-catalogue classics. His Liszt is no different.


Let us not knock professionalism or technical accomplishment. To play Liszt’s Dante Sonata and Mephisto Waltz No.1 with this degree of dash and fluency requires a lot of skill and dedication. The salon-style elegance of the Valse-Impromptu suits Nakamatsu’s approach best, but more generally Liszt requires a degree of dramatic involvement and story-telling immediacy that eludes him. The opening of the Dante Sonata needs to be far more arresting, and Nakamatsu’s lack of declamatory rhetoric sets the tone for the disc. Whether the music demands demonic intensity and drive, or – as in the Petrarch Sonnets and the song transcriptions – poetic warmth and lyricism, Nakamatsu’s musical response seems generalised and contrived. The listener is left to infer too much, filling the gaps that would illuminate the scope of Liszt’s imaginative reach. So, while there are many less competent and proficient Liszt recitals than this, Nakamatsu offers little to get excited about. Decent sound. Tim Parry