Slowly and not too surely, concert crowds are coming back. On Friday the Georgian-born pianist Nicolas Namoradze attracted what looked like a 60-percent audience of mostly 60-plus patrons to a Toronto Summer Music recital in 490-seat Walter Hall. They got a solid second half.
The big item was Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1, a 35-minute tour de force that is unaccountably absent from the standard repertoire. Possibly its sheer difficulty constitutes an obstacle, although Namoradze, 29, the winner of the 2018 Honens Competition in Calgary, proved to be equipped with the technical wherewithal.
The important point was that he articulated all the swirls and torrents without losing the romantic thread of the argument or sacrificing a heroic feeling of momentum. Colours were vivid, as they were in Alexina Louie’s I leap through the sky with stars, a Debussyian fantasy that exploited the keyboard from top to bottom and used trills to more than decorative effect. The composer was present to take a bow. You can hear Namoradze play this evocative piece on YouTube.
There was less to like before intermission. Bach’s French Suite No. 1 was laden with pauses, volume dips and other laboured attempts at expression. Somehow the performance managed to sound understated and exaggerated at once. For no good reason, Namoradze let the end of Bach’s Gigue bleed into the first of four of the pianist’s own Etudes. Made mostly of scales, these frenetic numbers evoked the practice hubbub of a conservatory hallway.
A potential highlight, the Adagio of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony as transcribed by Namoradze, turned out to be loud and effortful. Happily, there was ballast at the end of the recital in the form of a substantial encore, Scriabin’s Sonata No. 4, delivered with otherworldly delicacy as well as force. We also heard Snowdrop, a harmless miniature by York Bowen, 1884-1961, a composer sometimes called the English Rachmaninoff.
It was a good night on balance, despite stuffy air quality in Walter Hall (at least in the early going) and a Steinway that had its strident moments. Audience reaction was entirely positive. People might not yet be returning in droves but they are happy to be back.
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