Review: Naoumoff enchants students at piano academy

Emile Naoumoff, a longstanding professor in Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, understands and controls the keyboard probably as well as the best of pianists anywhere. His technique was on display Thursday evening in Auer Hall as a featured event given for youngsters attending the Summer Piano Academy and, of course, local citizenry with a love for the piano.

Emile Naoumoff

As usual, his technique was formidable and began to capture the crowd with a thoughtful interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata in F Minor, Opus 2, No. 1, an early composition written while he was still under the influence of his teacher, Haydn. Already, however, the sonata contains themes and developments that foreshadow what was to come as Beethoven’s distinctly Romantic and personal style developed.

Anyone familiar with Naoumoff’s command of his instrument comes with the expectation that he will bring something personal, something different in his interpretation of any piece of music he offers, interpretive touches that are unexpected, touches sometimes that come with extremes in low and loud, slow and fast, rhythmically unique. That can bother or enthuse. On this occasion, he had a most enthusiastic student audience that started to cheer and even rise early. The enthusiasm appeared to be contagious, and virtually all aboard in Auer appeared to be caught up.

From the first time I heard Naoumoff, I’ve appreciated the excitement he brings to everything he plays. Sometimes, I’ve been bothered by his choice of repertoire or how he’s expressed the music being performed. But he has never been anything less than a devoted musician, guided honestly by what forces are within him at the time. On Thursday, all the stars aligned. He applied his technical agility. He had chosen a fully satisfying package of compositions. And he put his distinctive imprint on every item, yet pretty much avoided idiosyncrasies.

He performed four Chopin pieces, two rhapsodic mazurkas (the A Minor, Opus 67, No. 4 and the F Minor, Opus 68, No. 4) and two dreamy Nocturnes (in E Minor, Opus 72, No. 1, and D-Flat Major, Opus 27, No. 2). Naoumoff remained loyal to these warm and embracing items, so easy to listen to with eyes closed.

Then the recitalist turned to Impressionistic French music of Ravel, Debussy, and Faure: the Sonatine of Ravel, brief and gently bright; two Debussy preludes, “Bruyeres” from Book 2 and “La fille aux cheveux de lin” from Book 1, and Gabrielle Faure’s Barcarolle No. 1 in A Minor, Opus 26. They were performed without interruption and became a weave of calm, all read with complete involvement. One could easily forget the place of the concert and float emotionally off to somewhere peaceful and restorative.

One noticed how much throughout the recital the page turner smiled at what she was hearing. That, too, was catching: an appropriate response to pianist Naoumoff’s pleasure-giving performance.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017 | pjacobi@heraldt.com

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