"Nobu's music pierces the heart." -- youTube comment
I own a copy of every one of the albums mentioned above, plus more: “Chopin: Piano Works” (photo, leftmost ), “Pictures at an Exhibition” (rightmost) , “Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2”, and every one of his Cliburn albums. To borrow a saying from Mrs. Carol Davidson, of Nobu’s Cliburn host family: He fills my house with beautiful music -- thanks to these albums and youTube videos.
I am probably less than objective here: I love every piece of the music on every one of these albums. But suppose I have to whittle it down to a manageable list? Which “tunes” would I choose? In fact, I have had to do just that, when I recently built a playlist, “favNobu”, for my iPod. It was not an easy task, but I managed to narrow it down to about 20.
Below are the pieces that go into that list, in a rough order of preference. You will note that I favor lyrical pieces that feature runs and arpeggios on the keyboard, of which Nobu is – in my humble opinion – second to none. He can play those on both hands with equal dexterity and fluidity, so silky smooth that you are not aware of just how hard they are to play until you listen to choppier renditions by other pianists, even virtuosos many years older.
Chopin: Nocturne 8, Op. 27 (from “My Favorite Chopin”, as heard on this video - also see a video of a live performance): The delicate beauty and soulfulness of this performance is the reason I love Nobu’s piano music. Listening to it late at night, I do believe that Nobu can actually see stars twinkling in the sky. There is a part, about 3 minutes into this piece, that makes me think of Nobu tossing a handful of star dusts into the night sky.
Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 (from “debut”): On iTunes, this piece is a perennial favorite among Nobu’s works, for a good reason. There is a melody, repeated three times, that “overlies a six-note-per-measure left-hand accompaniment of exceeding richness.” Here the fluidity of Nobu’s left hand is put to superb effect, bringing out the beauty of the much admired melody in this piece. Bravo fortissimo! This piece does pierce my heart.
Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, first movement (from “Chopin: Piano Works”): This movement has one of the loveliest of Chopin’s long melodies that would be beautiful in the hands of any virtuoso pianist. Nobu was only 17 when he performed this so engagingly at the 2005 Chopin Competition – I hope he will record it again some day, with improvements that come with maturity.
Chopin: Andante Spinato and Grande Polonaise, op. 22 (from “My Favorite Chopin”): The brilliance of the tone is riveting throughout, and the beauty of the opening of the Spinato and a certain stanza late in the Polonaise is so intense that listening to them makes my knees weak.
Liszt: Three Concert Études Un sospiro (“The sigh”) (from “Pictures at an Exhibition”). I saw Nobu perform this and it simply defies belief how he does the diabolical frequent hand-crossing in this Liszt show piece . The fluidity of Nobu on both hands brings out the beauty of the melody in a way so unlike Chopin’s masterful melodies, but equally enjoyable. To borrow the saying of somebody else: the richness and nuances of the piano sound generated in the hands of Nobuyuki approaches that of a full orchestra -- this piece is a prime example.
Listz: Rigoletto Paraphrase de concert (from “Pictures at an Exhibition”) – there is a swashbuckling boyishness and playfulness in this piece that brings a smile to my face whenever I listen to it – Nobu loves playing this piece, perhaps because it allows him to show off his masterful runs on both hands. Plus the melody is doggone lovely.
Chopin: Prelude No. 3 (“Thou Art So Like A Flower”), op. 28 (from the Japan TV show “Nobuyuki’s Journey to Majorca” - see this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roQ2M7Ft30k): I really wish Nobu would record all 24 preludes someday. This very short piece I consider a masterpiece on both the part of the composer and the performer – here Nobu’s left-hand run is so silky smooth that you won’t appreciate how good it is until you compare it with performances by other virtuosos – don’t take my word for it, listen to other renditions and see if you agree with me.
Chopin: Prelude No. 15 (“Raindrop”). Op. 28, (from the Japan TV show “Nobuyuki’s Journey to Majorca” - see this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAgFfaMu10A): the opening is especially moving. Listen to this on a rainy day and the palpable melancholy is almost unbearable.
Chopin: Prelude No. 19 (“Heartfelt happiness”) Op. 28 (from “Chopin: Piano Works”): a spirit lifter gorgeously played by a young man only at age 17.
Chopin: Prelude No. 21 (“Sunday”) Op. 28 (from “Chopin: Piano Works”): same as above.
Chopin: Prelude No. 23 (“A pleasure Boat”) Op. 28 (from “Chopin: Piano Works”): you can hear the sparkling water swirling around that boat in this short piece.
Chopin: Prelude No. 23 (“The Storm”) Op. 28 (from “Chopin: Piano Works”): At age 17, Nobu played this prelude better than some of the virtuosos who are much older now. That smooth left-hand allows the melody on the right hand to stand out so vividly: you can clearly hear the howling wind, the drumming rain, the thunder claps; and visualize the lightnings – a superb rendition of this beloved piece.
Chopin: Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op.66, from a BBC broadcast. No, Nobu has yet to record this all-time Chopin favorite – I love it so much that I grabbed a rendition performed by Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madžar and listen to it, pretending that it is Nobu who’s playing. I hope Nobu will get around to recording this some day soon: he would be mesmerizing with it.
Nobuyuki Tsujii: Whisper of the River (from “debut”): This is by far my favorite of Nobu’s own compositions, played superbly on both hands with marvelous tempo and fluidity.
Kapustin: 8 Concert Etudes for Piano Op.40-2 (from youTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuwAUUbrkxY): This is a stunning performance by Nobu at age 15, a solid proof of Nobu’s genius. This is such a classy presentation of Kapustin’s jazzy classical piece – the beauty is indescribable and astonishing.
Chopin: Etude in C major, Op. 10 – No. 3 (from the Cliburn Gold Medal album): In the documentary of the Cliburn competition, this is the first piece that we hear from Nobu – there are renditions of this work that smolder with emotion, but I prefer the quiet sweetness of Nobu.
Chopin: Etude in C major, Op. 10 – No. 11 (from the Cliburn Chopin album): An extremely challenging piece played flawlessly and beautifully by Nobu in the Cliburn Competition’s preliminary round. “(E)very note is a rolled chord” and the chords are played in “extreme rapid progression” – I can only imagine the countless hours that Nobu put into practicing this piece. This performance is a tour de force. Listening to it, I envision a sparkling running stream – probably the genesis of Nobu’s own composition “Whisper of the River.”
Chopin: Etude in C sharp minor Op. 25-6 (from “Chopin: Piano Works”): Nobu loved to play this when he was in high school – you could see his fingers flying as the notes tumble forth in a silky stream. Listening to this piece, I see a butterfly fluttering among spring flowers.
Chopin: Etude in C major, Op. 10 – No. 1 (from the Cliburn Gold Medal album), a tour de force of virtuosity. This, of course, is the very first piece that Nobu played and wowed the audience at the Cliburn Competition -- and good to listen to as well.
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 movement 1 (from Harmonia Mundi album Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 ) Audience and orchestra members at the Cliburn Competition wept during this performance – so did I when I first listened to this CD. My eyes still sting at times when I listen to it.
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 movement 2 (from Harmonia Mundi album Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 ) The spellbinding, spine-tinkling melody was played with a maturity that belies Nobu’s 20 years of age at the time, and was used to great effect on the soundtrack of the Cliburn documentary.
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 movement 1 (live performance in Henley, England, 2010), from the jan. 13, 2011 BBC broadcast. I wrote a whole piece about this performance BBC Broadcast, Jan. 13, 2011; the first movement is especially enchanting to my ears.
Now did I leave out anything? But of course: Liszt's Liebestraum, Ravel's Jeux d'eau -- to name but two. But if I keep going, I would end up including every piece in the list!
What's your favorite Nobu piece?