Pianist-composer Nicolas Namoradze, newest winner of the triennial Honens International Piano Competition, delivered his Carnegie Hall debut Sunday night at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. Audaciously opening with Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 9, he demonstrated his deep interest in that most interesting of composers by concluding the concert with not one but four brief encores, all Scriabin Etudes.
Namoradze’s overall soft touch brought out the hushed subtleties of the Sonata’s initial passages. He maintained a thoughtful, even kindly mood through the exclamations that followed, achieving coloristic changes by taking a pointillistic approach. And when the monsters arrived in rippling spasms of notes, he was more than up to the challenge, playing with impeccable clarity and measured force.
Only in his 20s, the New York-based pianist is a deep investigator of musical resonances over the centuries, an emphasis he touched on in our recent interview. His choice to flow directly from the Scriabin into Bach’s Sinfonia No. 9 in F minor brilliantly illuminated the kind of continuity a perceptive mind can find. In fact, a casual listener might have easily been forgiven for not realizing right away that the modernistic Scriabin had ended and the contemplative, baroque Bach, with its unusual dissonances, had begun.
After playing the compact Sinfonia with a cool assurance that seemed beyond his years, Namoradze found the bright romance in Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor. The hall took on the aura of a small cathedral as he played the Toccata, drawing a trombone-like tone from the piano’s middle range. To the Allemande he brought a sunny spirit, a fine sense of spaciousness, and a delicate feel for timing, and to the Corrente’s quick tempo a harplike lightness and grace.
A rather fiery Air led into a tense, sparkling Sarabande. In this sublime piece Bach makes you wait for the resolutions. Namoradze sustained the tensions beautifully, spreading clouds of ornamentation without excessive rubato.
His gentle touch brightened the energetic final two movements as well, even when the sound bloomed large. Then that touch grew vapor-light as he gave every note of Schumann’s Arabeske Op. 18 its due. The opening movement of the troubled composer’s much later Gesänge der Frühe attained a hymnlike softness. Chopin-esque grandeur, crisp thunderclaps, and bell-like tones emerged as the suite progressed. The “Bewegt” movement attained a coiled arabesque-like energy.
Namoradze followed the Schumann with some of his own recent works, beginning with his brand-new Arabesque. The piece calls for intertwined hands the whole way, mostly in the piano’s upper register, requiring technical bravado and creating a distinct, frothing atmosphere. I didn’t feel that it showed off his gift for feeling, though to be fair it doesn’t seem a piece meant to be driven by emotion. I felt it overstayed its welcome, especially compared to his three virtuosic and highly entertaining Etudes, which closed the regular program.
Basking in his debut before a friendly full house, Namoradze then gave us four Etudes from Scriabin’s Op. 2, 8, and 42 as encores. Forward-looking and deceptively lovely, they display to varying degrees the Russian eccentric’s Chopin influence. But Namoradze has fully grasped the intellectual heft of these pieces too. Thanks in large part to the Honens prize, he has a busy concertizing and recording schedule. All indications are that his multiple gifts have well prepared him.