4 stars – Indiana History Center; April 18.
Starting last Sunday and going backwards, we had ten days during which four top-tier pianists visited Indy. In many ways this gathering was not only capped but topped in Sunday's American Pianists Association Grand Encounters series, featuring the barely 20-year-old, Japanese, 2009 Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist, Nobuyuki Tsujii—a concert the sold-out IHC's Basile Theater audience will long remember. Tsujii has been blind from birth, forcing me as a critic to decide whether to make allowances for what most would consider an impossible handicap. Perhaps because of being sightless, Tsujii plays differently from any other pianist of his caliber. His program — an interesting potpourri of Chopin, Schumann and Liszt, with the second half reserved for Mussorgsky's complete Pictures at an Exhibition — brought out very ample pedaling, more than most keyboard artists can execute without smearing those respective passages. But for two Chopin Nocturnes, Schumann's Papillons ("Butterflies"), Liszt's "Un sospiro" from Three Concert Etudes and his paraphrase of tunes from Verdi's opera Rigoletto, Tsujii made his pedal sing while his rapid figures all shone through. The young pianist, in jumping chords, always landed squarely on the right ones, needing — and possessing — an astounding reflex sense of distance. Not being able to see his keys, Tsujii's head meandered about at all angles in front of him, reportedly distracting some patrons. It is regrettable to report that this young savant faltered just a bit in the Mussorgsky, wherein his tempos were often rushed and his overpedaling caught up with him, causing him to make slips he did not demonstrate in the first half. But when I find myself making allowances, that afternoon was simply mesmerizing.