BBC Philharmonic/Mena – review

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Nobuyuki Tsujii showed signs of Glenn Gould-like brilliance in his interpretation – learned by ear – of Grieg's Piano Concerto

Nobuyuki Tsujii's relationship with the BBC Philharmonic was formed in adversity: the orchestra was playing with the 25-year-old pianist in Kyoto when the Japanese earthquake struck in March 2011. He cemented that with a spectacular Proms debut, playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 with the BBC PO under chief conductor Juanjo Mena earlier this year, and made his first appearance on the orchestra's Manchester home ground with a guaranteed crowd-pleaser: Grieg's A minor Concerto.

What makes this all the remarkable is that Tsujii – a diminutive, highly animated figure – has been blind since birth and learns his repertoire by ear. You might think that would lead to communication problems; yet Tsujii, whose blazing ability, stabbing posture and quixotic phrasing is sometimes reminiscent of Glenn Gould, has a remarkable ability to appear in a world of his own, while remaining on the same wavelength as the orchestra. Much of the credit must go to Mena, who cut an almost paternal figure when guiding the soloist back out for two rapturously received encores: a sublime Sibelius study and a warp-speed rampage through Chopin's Revolutionary Etude.

Emily Howard made an impact at last year's Proms with the mathematically oriented Calculus of the Nervous System. Her latest orchestral essay, Axon, was further evidence of a composer who prefers to think in terms of synapses rather than sonata form, as it was named after the nerve fibres that conduct electrical impulses. After an initial burst of jarring dissonance, it throbbed gently for a while before experiencing a delayed aftershock. Though Howard's handling of orchestral texture was impressive, the neurological structure put one in mind of a Brontosaurus biting its tail, and registering the pain 20 minutes later.

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Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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