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Arabesque – Piano Music Of Schumann And Namoradze / Nicolas Namoradze

Release Date: 01/07/2022
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30112
Composer:  Robert Schumann ,  Nicolas Namoradze Performer:  Nicolas Namoradze Number of Discs: 1

Pianist and composer Nicolas Namoradze came to international attention in 2018 upon winning the triennial Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary, Canada—the largest piano prize in the world. For his Steinway label debut, Namoradze performs works by Schumann as well as his own compositions.

"Namoradze, a true Renaissance man, is set to become one of the truly important artists of his generation."
– Emanuel Ax

Album Credits:
Recorded March 1 - 3, 2019 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sclafani
Assistant Engineer: Melody Nieun Hwang
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Mixing and Mastering:
Read more Daniel Shores

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Cover Photo: Nathan Elson
Piano Technician: Lauren Sclafani
Piano: Steinway Model D #607799 (New York)

As readers of the January edition of this magazine will know, Nicolas Namoradze has been led via his interest in Ligeti to develop a revolutionary marriage of pianism and neuroscience. The crux of his theory lies in his belief that with difficult passages, the brain can trick us into believing we can play them before we physically can. 'lmagineering' — engineered imagining - is his word for this process.

This process powers his new CD, in which pieces by Robert Schumann are interwoven with compositions of his own: he juxtaposes Schumann's Gesänge der Frühe and Humoreske with his Arabesque plus three Etudes. Namoradze argues that the notion of 'arabesque' covers the lot, even if its primary meaning — of ornate, spiraling and interlacing patterns - applies to visual art.

In Namoradze's Arabesque, the pianist’s hands are superimposed throughout, playing intertwined figurations that can only be distinguished by their dynamic shifts. Two modes alternate, one ascending and the other descending, creating a rondo-like structure showing the inñuence of Schumann’s work of the same name. Well, that's how Namoradze sees it. though in practice this complex structure is almost impossible to discern by ear and only reveals itself to the eye in close-up.

On the other hand, this piece and the three intricate studies which follow purvey an aural pleasure that needs no theoretical justification: Namoradze's playing has a crystalline purity, and his art. which follows in Ligeti's footsteps, feels like an esoteric extension of Ligeti’s art. Meanwhile the Schumann pieces are a delight.

Don’t approach this CD as an intellectual exercise - just let the music speak to you.

-- International Piano

Georgian-born, Hungarian-raised, internationally trained pianist and composer Nicolas Namoradze (b 1992) hit the jackpot in 2018 when he won the lavishly endowed Honens Competition. On the basis of this release, recorded in 2019, he is an interesting artist. His interpretation of Schumann’s Humoreske is lively, sensitive, and individual. Part 1 is impulsive, with strong accents. The sections of Part 2 are strongly contrasted. About 1 minute into that part, his timing is so free that the rhythm is not quite clear. Textures and harmonies are sometimes blurred owing to overpedaling. The fast passage in Part 3 is rather heavy. In Part 5 the fast “fingery” passages also could be clearer. Part 6 is emphatic and very free in timing right after 2:24. The two hands are not always together. These are just descriptions, barely criticisms, for the performance as a whole is convincing and engaging. The same can be said about his renditions of Schumann’s Arabeske, which also exhibits strong contrasts between sections, and Gesänge der Fruhe (Songs of Dawn). His interpretations stood up well in direct comparison with fine recordings by Alicia de Larrocha, Wilhelm Kempff, and Michael Endres. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about his compositions. His Arabesque is delicate, rhythmically uniform, and involves a lot of tinkling in the high register. There are some melodic fragments in the middle part, but they do not amount to much. As Namoradze points out in his intelligent and concise liner notes, it is a texture piece inspired by some Escher drawings. The three short etudes, called `Major Scales’, `Mostly Triads’, and `Moving Mirrors’, are technically challenging but not greatly rewarding as music. Unlike the Arabesque, they also have no real connection with the Schumann program, though the pianist sees an arabesque-like structure in the interleaving of his own compositions with Schumann’s. He is the author of a doctoral dissertation on Ligeti’s etudes, which surely were an influence. These are clever pieces, more for mind and hand than for the ear. I read with amused surprise at the end of his biography that he is now pursuing postgraduate studies in the neuropsychology of music, a specialty close to what used to be my own field of research. Before retiring I often attended neuroscience conferences and would have been delighted to meet this talented young artist-scientist at one of them. Incidentally, there is another pianist who is also a neuroscientist: the Swede Frederik Ullen, known for his recordings of etudes by Sorabji and Ligeti on BIS. And I did meet him once at a conference.

--- American Record Guide

Nicolas Namoradze (b. 1992) gained world-wide attention as the 2018 winner of the triennial Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary, Canada—the largest piano prize in the world. His musical pedigree proves no less impressive, including teachers Emanuel Ax, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Zoltán Kocsis, Matti Raekallio, and Elisso Virsaladze in piano, and John Corigliano in composition. Namoradze conceives this recital (recorded March 1–3, 2019) as centered on the idea of arabesques, with Schumann’s having exerted influences on Namoradze’s personal style of composition.

Namoradze begins with Schumann’s 1853 Gesänge der Frühe, “Songs of Spring,” a suite of five pieces which wife Clara called “Dawn Songs.” Although she admired Robert’s late works, she found these pieces “hard to understand, their tone is so very strange.” Essentially, given Robert Schumann’s penchant for musical economy and cyclic structure, the suite follows the D-Major triad, organized in the pattern D-D-A-F? Minor-D, with episodes of both harmonic audacity and intricate counterpoint. When Schumann described the set as “musical pieces that describe feelings at the approach and growth of morning, but more as expressions of feeling than painting,” he exactly quotes Beethoven’s explanation for his “Pastoral” Symphony. Namoradze plays the Im ruhigen Tempo like a cautionary chorale whose passing dissonances suggest a dark side to Nature’s bounty. The second movement, Belebt, nicht zu rasch, projects a polyphonic, enigmatic mood, purposely avoiding the tonic D until the last chords. A gallop in large chords, the third movement, Lebhaft, displays more of Namoradze’s innate bravura, with a trill and urgent scalar passages at the coda. The fourth movement, Bewegt, plays in the manner of a song without words, the melody’s motion impelled by cascading 32nds. Pursuant to his cyclic style, Schumann marks the fifth section Im Anfange ruhiges, im Verlauf bewegtes Tempo, so as to unite its atmosphere to the opening, before a string of 16ths infiltrates the texture, and the work concludes in a state of bliss.

The ubiquitous 1839 Arabeske in C has long charmed us in its decorative rondo pattern, interrupted by two more passionate episodes in minor keys. Namoradze urges the work with studied emphases and dramatic pauses that avoid melodrama. The pensive aspect of the work no less emerges, especially as the narrative concludes with a kind of epilogue. Schumann’s work engenders Namoradze’s 2018 Arabesque, especially in the notion of interlacing, transparent textures in high register. The piece demands that the pianist’s hand interlock, or rather superimpose upon each other, so that the ascending and descending patterns oscillate from a Minimalist, confined surface. The piece qualifies as a toccata or touch-piece in graduated nuance, likened by the composer to the Metamorphosis prints by M. C. Escher.

Schumann’s moody, even manic, 1839 Humoreske appears next, its six movements inspired by both the composer’s aching sense of absence for his beloved Clara and the literary impetus of Jean-Paul Richter, who relishes the dualities in human nature. The work may qualify as a one-movement palindrome that subdivides into episodes, some of which exhibit the Märchen character of a moralistic fable, as in the Hastig section two. What proves beguiling here lies in Namoradze’s sense of touch, easily suggestive of the magical dynamics achieved by former greats, like Benno Moiseiwitsch, in Schumann’s music. For Schumann, one aspect of his aesthetic lay in the idea of paradox, taken from his cited source, Schlegel. The Humoreske abounds in ironic shifts of mood and texture; and Namoradze juxtaposes lightness of heart with the presence of emotional, even polyphonic, frenzy, as in the fourth section, marked Einfach und zart, whose agitations arise from a simple, child-like parlando. For sheer velocity, the Sehr lebhaft section has few rivals. Schumann had remarked in a letter that his Humoreske was perhaps his most melancholy work to date, and Namoradze emphasizes the obsessive, mordant side of Schumann’s nature in the extended finale, Zum Beschluss, the expressive narrative succumbing to an ineluctable, disoriented resignation.

Namoradze completed his three, proffered etudes between 2015 and 2017. Etude I proves a study in controlled, textural disintegration, moving from coordinated realization of major scales in diverse keys to a deliberate invitation to conflicted, contrary motion and then something like chaos, all in fewer than two minutes. Etude II plays with differentiated hand positions, often rather testy, in triads, producing an aerial or musette sonority but no less jabbing and martial. The final Etude III presents a study in agogic transformation, the very elements of pitch, register, meter, and melodic shape in perpetual doubt. Inversion seems the order of the two minutes of brilliant cacophony, a madness with a purpose.

-- Fanfare

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