Having heard Nobuyuki Tsujii's 2013/14 Chopin/Liszt recital program live in Germany last May, I looked forward to listening to this studio-recorded album. I own all of Nobu's CDs recorded at Teldex, and assumed that I had already heard all of the tracks.
It wasn't until I played this CD that I realized that I had overlooked that track 7 is NOT the Hungarian Rhapsody that we have all heard from Nobu, but Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, which I don't believe we had heard Nobu perform in public before!
What an unexpected pleasure! I like it that Nobu plays a new work for us. And I don't know if Avex Classics chose to include a fresh track on this new album without fanfare, but kudos to the marketing genius.
High-brow critics may find fault with these recordings, but I submit that for the average listener (me!), this disc is a genuine delight. The sound quality is outstanding, as you would expect from Teldex, and the tonality and colors are as rich as heard live, and cleaner. Even the opening track, the La Campanella, sounds fresh. I had most looked forward to track 3 (Isode's Liebestod) and track 4 (Sonnet of Petrarch), and they do not disappoint. Yes, they are sweeping dramatic pieces that drip sentimentality, but Nobu's love for them is obvious and he pours his heart out playing them for us. Track 2 (Fountain) will brighten any home on any day, and track 5 (Faust) is a tour de force of virtuosity. I don't begrudge the reappearance of the last two tracks ("A sigh" and "Rigoletto"); they are as good as they get and they belong in this collection.
Nobu's Liszt has been praised by some critics, such as in this effusive review: "There are moments when this young man could easily take his place alongside legendary Lisztians - the patrician Arrau especially - such is the nobility and breadth of his conception. I always rejoice in the surge and passion of this music, but I can’t remember being as moved by it as I was here."
And I have always felt that Nobu has a quiet swagger that is brought out by Liszt's music. Some people take a dim view of the exaggerated show pieces of the venerable Hungarian composer, but in Nobu's hands, those works have a unique charm to my ears. I only hope that Nobu will stay with the works by Liszt that are more accessible to his audiences, such as the ones on this disc.
I think I can honestly say that this is an album that Nobu should be proud of. It will take time to test the durability of my enjoyment of the tracks, but for now I place this album among my favorites of Nobu's recordings, along with last year's Debussy CD and my all-time favorite Chopin Works (live performances from the 2005 Chopin Competition.)