The New York Times: A Young Pianist With a Big Appetite

A Young Pianist With a Big Appetite
Allan Kozinn, New York Times

Soheil Nasseri, a 23-year-old pianist who was born in Santa Monica, Calif. and studied in Baltimore and New York, is playing four recitals in New York this season, and the first, on Sept. 17 at Weill Recital Hall, showed him to be a pianist with a consistently interesting interpretive imagination, a secure technique, and broad tastes. With the exception of Schubert’s big A major Sonata (D. 959), the program was devoted to premieres, and with the Schubert representing the Viennese mainstream, the other works were by composers from Israel (Ronn Yedidia), Mexico (Samuel Zyman), and England (Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji).

Mr. Nasseri opened the program with a strongly accented, clear-textured account of the Schubert. Where there were choices to be made in matters of weight and coloration, Mr. Nasseri tended to favor responses that illuminated Schubert’s Classicism over his Romantic breadth – a sensible approach in this sonata. That isn’t to say that tempestuousness was absent; there were some strikingly dark, even brawny moments in the Andantino. But the prevailing impression was of brightness and transparency.

Counterbalancing the Schubert, at the end of the recital, was Sorabji’s
Sonata No. 0 (composed before the work published as Sonata No. 1), a big work composed in 1917 but listed as a world premiere. That is possible: Sorabji was a prolific composer of huge piano works, but until the mid-1970’s he prohibited public performances of his works in the belief that pianists could not do them justice. The Sonata No. 0 looks monstrous in manuscript: it is written on three staves, with dense chordal figures that leave no finger free for long. Mr. Nasseri summoned the power demanded by the work’s grander proclamations, but he showed that there is a great deal more subtlety in the work; indeed, the most compelling passages were those in which Sorabji’s thick textures were spun out more delicately.

The world premieres of Mr. Yedidia’s “Ether” (1996) and “Apparitions” (1995) shared the first half of the program with the Schubert. Mr. Nasseri played Mr. Yedidia’s pieces without pause, as if they were movements of a suite, and that approach made sense. Both are explorations of a tightly focused chromaticism, each couched in distinct terms. In “Ether,” Mr. Yedidia takes a mistily harmonized chordal line around the keyboard in the manner of a Debussy Ètude with hints of Liszt; in “Apparitions,” his medium is brisk arpeggiation, accented occasionally with more aggressive bursts.

Mr. Zyman’s “Two Motions in One Movement” (1996), a New York premiere, and “Cantilena” (2002), a world premiere, opened the second half of the program, and were also played without pause. They are attractive, easygoing pieces. In “Two Motions,” Impressionism and jazz wind around each other like vines. “Cantilena” is more straightforwardly Neo-Classical, a light but seductive work. In both, Mr. Nasseri returned to the crystalline sound that had enlivened his Schubert.