Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mayumi Sakamoto

Hey, I have a cousin named Mayumi! That, however, is the least of the reasons why I like this Japanese pianist's performance so much. I was struck by her face, a tableau of serenity even when playing the most tumultuous passages. I've got nothing against pianists who wear the music's emotions on their faces while they play, but clearly the "channel everything into the music" approach is working for her.

She played an extremely well-chosen program, starting with Bach's Toccata in E minor. She played sharp, purposeful Bach, brimming with confidence that she knew exactly what she was doing, a rare quality in young pianists whatever music they're playing. She then segued effortlessly into Mendelssohn's Variations serieuses, a piece that used counterpoint in much the same way as Bach's, but for more emotional ends. Her convincing performance made you wonder why Mendelssohn is regarded as a distant third to Chopin and Liszt among his contemporaries.

With her plangent, warm, gorgeous sound, she'd seem a natural for the Russian repertoire. Her concluding piece was Rachmaninov's Moments musicaux, and it was the best Rachmaninov playing we've heard so far. (Strange that she doesn't have any more Russian music scheduled for the later rounds.) The six selections gave her a chance to showcase her formidable technique, and she invested them with galvanizing emotional power. If there's a weakness in her game, I haven't found it yet.

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