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Review: Beethoven's Emperor at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

He’s a superstar at home in Japan and since he first appeared in Liverpool the best part of a decade ago, Nobuyuki Tsujii has become a firm favourite at the Philharmonic Hall too.

DaDaFest, celebrating the best local, national and international disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent art and artists, returns to the city later this week.

And what better appetiser (albeit completely unrelated) than a stellar performance by a blind pianist of a master work from someone who was in the throes of losing their hearing when he composed it?

So stellar a performance, and from such a popular performer, that apparently some people attended Thursday night’s concert and then booked again for the Sunday matinee.

Two youngsters sitting in front of me watched with fascination as the 34-year-old felt carefully for the right position from which to launch what was a hugely enjoyable reading of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

Always technically impressive, Tsujii’s playing is also full of personality and colour and has a wonderful fluidity.

The stage was set in the opening movement, piano announcing itself alone and silkily from the orchestra’s brief opening notes, and Tsujii demonstrating a lovely lightness of touch while Domingo Hindoyan controlled the drama around him with an equally light hand.

With all the drama and stress in the world outside the Philharmonic Hall at the moment, the concerto’s soporific Adagio offered the kind of emotional balm that should be available over the counter, let alone on prescription.

There was a delightful delicacy in the opening orchestral line, and a sublime, pillowy softness to Tsujii’s playing before the movement merged into a jaunty Rondo (Hindoyan practically bouncing on the podium) with an exuberant piano solo.

Just the tonic on a Sunday afternoon.

If you missed Tsujii’s latest pair of concerts, don’t despair – he’s back on November 2, playing more Beethoven (the Moonlight Sonata) in a recital programme which also includes Liszt, Ravel and Kasputin.

The Emperor sat at the heart of an all-Beethoven programme, sandwiched between a light-on-its-feet Overture to his Creatures of Prometheus ballet, and – after the interval – his Pastoral Symphony.

As Beethoven became progressively deaf, he retreated further into the countryside that had always offered him a measure of succour and contentment. He was the one to give his sixth symphony its ‘pastoral’ title and to suggest themes for each of its (relatively unusual) five movements.

Here in the heart of the city, Hindoyan led the orchestra on a restorative walk in the fresh air, from the cheerful stepping out of the opening movement, through an elegant and tender ‘scene by the brook’ with pretty woodwind cadenza, a third movement lively with capering strings and gambolling woodwind and a thunder storm fourth (which could have stood even more drama) from which the sun burst through – and with it the symphony’s most famous theme.

Lovely stuff.

Top: Nobuyuki Tsujii. Photo by Mark McNulty.


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