BBC Proms 2023 – PROM 70. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Domingo Hindoyan (conductor) Nobuyuki Tsujii (piano) 8th September 2023

Nobuyuki Tsujii.jpegThe centrepiece in this penultimate night in the 2023 Prom season was Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. Almost a series of fiendishly difficult cadenzas linked by orchestral interludes it’s one of the most notoriously challenging concertos in the repertoire.

And Nobuyuki’s rendering of it was utterly remarkable on every level. He played the very long first movement cadenza – all those crazy chords – with hunched intensity and passion. I admired the beautifully delicate, almost tentative pianissimo in the final recap too. Then he sailed into the wide vistas of the adagio and gave us a nicely negotiated transition into the finale. It was a terrific performance.

Blind from birth, Tsujii had to be led on and off the platform by Domingo Hindoyan. I have absolutely no idea how you would even begin to study “Rack 3” (or any other concerto for that matter) if you can’t see the music and then, in performance can’t see the conductor. But Tsujii has clearly found a way because he carries it off magnificently. No wonder the audience was rapturous at the end. Every single hand clap was richly deserved because it felt as if we’d witnessed a miracle.

The other high spot in the concert came after the interval in Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story complete with six percussionists plus timps, extra wind, hand clicks and shouts. I haven’t seen this played live since, years ago Kent County Youth Orchestra did it and, of course, it’s an excellent choice for a youth orchestra because its exuberance is great fun and they have all those extra players freely available. I suspect it’s too costly to get many professional outings. RLPO, though, is evidently now very strong and ambitious under its new conductor, Hindoyan who carefully brought out every rhythm and melody in this ultra-dramatic music and everyone left the hall humming.

The evening had begun with Honneger’s tone poem Rugby which was played with lots of incisive jollity and colourful work especially from trombones and tuba. And the second half opened with the UK premiere of Gabriela Ortiz’s Clara which is a homage to Clara Schumann in five movements. The fourth movement which depicts Robert’s state of mind was especially evocative with mysterious, troubled string work with tam-tam and other percussion interjections.

It was, however, the Rachmaninov which moved me most – an extraordinary performance by an extraordinary man.

Susan Elkin