Soheil Nasseri plays music of Schubert, Chopin, Beethoven and Beethoven/Liszt at Merkin Concert Hall

Piano Sonata in G, D894
Ballade in G minor, Op.23
Variations on ‘God Save the King’, WoO78
Beethoven, transcribed Liszt
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Soheil Nasseri (piano)

Reviewed by: Fred Kirshnit

Reviewed: 1 September, 2015
Venue: Merkin Concert Hall, Kaufman Music Center, New York City

Soheil NasseriPhotograph: soheilnasseri.comTraditionally the New York music season begins after Labor Day, when it becomes virtually impossible to find a parking space anywhere in town, but Soheil Nasseri pushed the envelope by a few days and offered the first significant event of the 2015-16 Season.

He began with Schubert and, in the main, produced a fine realization of a poetic masterpiece. D894 is a tricky piece, its pity and power somewhat hidden beneath the surface, and Nasseri mined this vein of gold with a subtle use of volume, particularly in the Andante. There was a sense that more fluidity was needed, but overall this was a fine rendition, noted for its variety of color. This type of Schubert performance perhaps lacks the grandeur of a Richter or the mellowness of a Brendel but that may come with time.

It was a mistake to follow the Schubert with anything, particularly something as bold and loud as Chopin’s G-minor Ballade. This miscue was intensified by the poorest performance of the evening, marked by clanging and various left-hand passages from – apparently – another piece altogether. Dynamics were subject to odd choices, there was a palpable lack of rubato and a complete abandonment of the dramatic pause. It was difficult to maintain the illusion that this was the same artist that had produced the first offering.

One of the many aspects of Beethoven’s greatness is that even his detritus is interesting. In 60-odd years of listening, I had never experienced his Variations on ‘God Save the King’ but, not surprisingly, it turned out to be rather interesting. Sounding sometimes like Haydn and occasionally like Brahms, the intricate little piece was a delight and competently played.

In my interview with a German pianist who was about to perform the Sonata No.7 of Prokofiev, his comment was pithily “lots of notes!”. The same could be said of Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven 5, written so that virtually no other contemporary pianist – with the possible exception of Sigismond Thalberg – could even dare to attempt it. Glenn Gould’s 1968 recording made a very strong case that this is the best of Liszt’s many keyboard arrangements. Nasseri proved to be the master of this untamed lion, keeping its effects dramatic and appealing. No matter that the crowd clapped after the penultimate note, they were probably simply unfamiliar with Liszt’s source material.

Two encores followed, both by Liszt, Liebestraum No.3 and the Tenth Hungarian Rhapsody.

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