New York Concert Review

Harris Goldsmith, New York Concert Review

An auspicious recital was given by Soheil Nasseri on October 13th at Weill Hall. The 22-year-old pianist was born in Santa Monica, California, began his music lessons at five, and gave his first public recital at the age of seven. He has studied with an impressive list of mentors – including Ann Schein at the Peabody Conservatory, Jerome Lowenthal, Alfred Brendel, Richard Goode, and the late Karl Ulrich Schnabel.

It took but a few, securely-played bars of Beethoven’s magnificent early Sonata No. 4 in E-flat, Op. 7 to make it plainly evident that Mr. Nasseri was the possessor of a first-class musical mind, technically adroit, and wonderfully well-prepared for his demanding program. His basic style, one might say, reflects the best aspects of what we call “the modern style”: cleanly etched; structurally and architecturally lucid; and bracingly unsentimental.

This writer heard something akin to the young Brendel at his pristine best, the hurtling first movement of the sonata ideally well-spaced rhythmically, texturally transparent and sagacious of every potential, and wonderful, harmonic event. The glorious slow movement, Largo, con gran espressione, usually begins with a halting theme, chordal and noble in character, is later interspersed with pregnant pauses (which become more troubled as the melody progresses and at the summation punctuated by a series of detached fortissimo chords), and a third subordinate motif is stated in bare octaves answered by bird-like pianissimo accaciaturas in the treble (precursors to Bartok’s “nature sounds”, perhaps?).

The only reason I mention these unusual musical characteristics is to point out that Mr. Nasseri’s cucumber-cool, economical approach – while certainly valid as far as it went – made it possible to feel that Mr. Nasseri may discover even greater poetic and emotional magic as he matures and ripens. Conversely, the proto-Schubertian third movement (anticipatory of Schubert’s own early E-flat Sonata, D. 568; its central Trio likewise gives a pronounced foretaste of the first of Schubert’s D. 946 Klavierstucke with its swirling left hand triplets) came forth in dry-eyed manner, and the work’s finale (Poco allegretto e grazioso) refreshingly made it clear that the sometimes-heard interpretative pitfall of confusing the qualifying “grazioso” for a mistakenly sentimental “affetuoso” was avoided. The stormy C minor episode with its churning left-hand figuration was triumphantly propulsive.

The remainder of Mr. Nasseri’s roster commenced in like fashion. Three late Brahms pieces (his Romanze, Op. 118 No. 5; Intermezzo, Op. 118 No. 6; and Rhapsody, Op. 119 No. 4) were treated with clarifying taut vigor, Leon Kirchner’s 1987 Five Pieces For Piano had an underlying brooding anxiety that made their inherent lyricism all the more revealing, and Schumann’s Carnaval, Op.9 made perfect good sense (even if other players had conveyed a more airborne, fanciful, coloristic ballroom ambience): his reading was also pianistically of the first rank, technically, and devoid of monkey-business. There were also two encores: Beethoven’s string of Ecossaises (once ubiquitous in ballet-classes); and the Chopin Etude in F Major, Op. 10 No. 8 (bracingly unfurled; if without the magical expansiveness in its middle section that made Horowitz’s performance at his 1965 Carnegie Hall comeback so memorable).

It remains to be emphasized that Mr. Nasseri’s recital was by no means an ordinary debut: he has already concertized widely, and indeed will be heard three more times at Weill Hall this season: on November 17th, playing Schubert’s D. 780 Moments musicaux, five Rachmaninoff Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33, and Brahms’s F minor Sonata, Op.5; on February 9th, in Schumann’s C Major Fantasy, Op. 17; Brahms’s Waltzes, Op. 39; Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata, Op. 83; and on March 23rd, Haydn’s Sonata in A-flat, Hob. XVI:46; Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp minor, Op. 19, a group of Preludes and Fuguesfrom Book II of Bach’s W.T.C.; and the Brahms Handel Variations, Op. 24. As this excellent opening concert made crystal clear, he is already, at his relatively tender age, a seasoned member of his profession.