The musical ecstasies of Liszt compel some grand playing from Cliburn Gold Medal Winner (1997) Jon Hamamatsu (rec. 1905), here inscribed in Marin County, California on a Hamburg Steinway D, courtesy of Brad Michel. Nakamatsu opens with the 1839 musical fantasia responsorial to Dante’s Divine Comedy, a single-movement piece which favors F-sharp Major for its empyrean visions. Nakamatsu hurls fire in the opening section, clearly delineating the throes of Inferno in tritones, chromatic runs, block chords, diminished sevenths, and furious dissonances. Sectionalized, histrionic, ardently passionate even when contemplating eternity, this music allows Nakamatsu opportunities to savor the entire keyboard’s palette, furioso, a chance “to perform [these pieces] as if they had never been performed before.”
The tone of the disc promptly alters with the three 1858 nocturnes, the small sonnets after Petrarch. Even their percussive clarity assumes a soft, languid character. Much of the rhetorical style could easily be Chopin’s, except that the watery, harmonic textures so aptly belong to Liszt – rarified gondola music. Sonetto No. 104 urges the most romantic refinement from Nakamatsu, as is its wont. Big phrases, shimmering trills, lulling arpeggios, lovingly nuanced pianissimos. The last of the set, No. 123, shares an ethos with Schumann’s Fantasy in C, perhaps the next, natural extension of Nakamatsu’s musical inquiries. The tempo picks up again for the demonic Mephisto Waltz No. 1, in which Nakamatsu’s rapid staccato finds plenty of employment. Galloping, brilliant, sentimental, cloying, Nakamatsu’s quicksilver Mephisto assumes any number of beguiling guises in this dance-fantasy, a bravura performance in the Horowitz mold. The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1847) supplies Nakamatsu his own encore, a self-indulgent display piece with which Nakamatsu can work his own, idiosyncratic, magical gilt coating, according to his subjective lights.
It was Vladimir Ashkenazy who first introduced many of us listeners to the Gotschakoff Impromptu (1872), with its sweet luster and arpeggiated rhetorical style and insistent trill, a diaphanous, declamatory style reminiscent of the A-flat Liebestraum. The Valse-Impromptu (1850), on the other hand, Nakamatsu plays as an etude of elastic brilliance, a kin to La Leggierezza. The translucent shimmers continue through Schumann’s Spring Night (1972) as transcribed by Liszt for his own sense of ornamentation. Then, Liszt’s most potent Schumann transcription, the Widmung (1848), in which Nakamatsu opens with a lovely mezzo-voce that eventually intensifies to an fff of nostalgic power. Its middle section hints at Kinderszenen. Bittersweet and devilishly fascinating Liszt, thoughtful and acrobatic all at once.
— Gary Lemco