Review: Naoumoff a real showman at the Steinway

Naoumoff a real showman at the Steinway

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer
January 16, 2012

click here for original

First off, the man can play. Emile Naoumoff can perform virtuosic wonders on the Steinway, as he’s proved on numerous occasions since he came to IU and Bloomington a batch of years ago and as he certainly did again in Auer Hall on Saturday evening.

Next, he’s a showman, donning white tails and black T-shirt early on to begin his all-Tchaikovsky program, then switching to all black, tails again, in mid-concert.

Finally, he’s a composer and arranger with something to say. While, actually, on this occasion, his compositional skills were left at home, his re-compositional and transcriptional skills were very much in evidence as he displayed personal versions and visions of two Tchaikovsky favorites: the Finale from the Symphony Number 6, “Pathetique,” and the Overture-Fantasia, Romeo and Juliet.

As point of reference, last November in Auer, another pianist, Jacobs School alum Frederic Chiu, took on a remarkable project: to perform Franz Liszt’s version for keyboard of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The Liszt approach to the Fifth was, first, to deconstruct the score note for note and, then, to reconstruct it note by note so that what one ultimately heard was an honest effort to replicate on the piano what we usually hear from an orchestra.

The piano, however, is not an orchestra; it can but mimic. So Naoumoff, in his act of homage to Tchaikovsky, chose to strive less for duplication, that being impossible anyway, and more for representation and suggestion. One certainly heard the essences of Tchaikovsky in both of the transcriptions: the important themes and developments, the harmonics and chromatics, the pungent atmosphere of the originals.

To make that happen, Naoumoff obviously had to deeply, completely understand the originals. He had to know them intimately, to ponder them as total artistic creations, and then to manipulate the details of the material itself so the remade versions worked as music and as Tchaikovsky. He succeeded.

What this listener heard proved most persuasive because the combination of Naoumoff’s interpretation on paper and interpretation on the piano was so convincing. One still heard the voice of Tchaikovsky, the melancholy and blend of frustration and resignation in that Adagio lamentoso movement of the “Pathetique.” One could still revel in the romantic effusions that distinguish the composer’s distillation of the “Romeo and Juliet” tragedy.

All the while, Naoumoff made the piano sing a lot and clamor and weep and sigh and mourn. In terms of emotion, he withheld nothing. In terms of proficiency, he evinced just about everything. It was quite an achievement.

Not satisfied presenting just his two transcriptions, impressive though they were, Naoumoff programmed between them Tchaikovsky’s lovely, 40-minute celebration of “The Seasons,” 12 effulgent tonal washes written for piano that poetically and elegantly symbolize echoes of a Russian year in activities such as hovering by the hearth in January, voicing a Barcarolle in June, preparing the harvest in August, bursting into a Troika in November, and waltzing fetchingly through the Christmas holidays in December.

Naoumoff had their measure: the rhythms, the less-than-epic scale, the telling descriptive details, the lyricism, and the Slavic ambiance.


Copyright: 2012

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