Classical Music Guide - Thursday, July 19, 2018 - Written by Donald Isler

Tomoki Sakata

Tomoki Sakata - IKIF
20th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 18th, 2018

Beethoven: Sonata No. 16 in G Major, Op. 31, No. 1
Liszt: Spanish Rhapsody, S. 254/ R. 90
Takemitsu: Les yeux clos - in memory of Shuzo Takiguchi (1979)
Takemitsu: Rain Tree Sketch II - In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen (1992)
Scriabin: Feuillet d'album, Op. 45, No. 1
Scriabin: Fragilité, Op. 51, No. 1
Scriabin: Poéme, Op. 59, No. 1
Scriabin: Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

Tomoki Sakata won First Prize, as well as six special prizes, at the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Budapest, and was one of the top six finalists at the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition. He has already played in many concert halls in Europe and Asia, and currently studies with Arie Vardi in Hannover.

At the end of this challenging program, which had no intermission, and during which he never left the stage, Mr. Sakata thanked Jerome Rose, the founder of the Festival, for the honor of inviting him to perform there, and thanked the audience for staying to the end, ie for the Takemitsu and Scriabin works. The latter amused me, as that's when he did his best playing.

It was commendable that Mr. Sakata programmed the very odd, and rarely heard Beethoven Sonata, Op. 31, No. 1, though the outer movements sounded a bit overly serious and severe. The comments of a friend about Beethoven's talent for turning truly strange themes, such as those of these movements, into masterpieces helped me find the clue to what seemed missing here, despite the excellent pianism. In addition to brilliant fingerwork there should also be some lightness, gentleness and humor in these movements.

Mr. Sakata displayed a fine understanding of the idiom of Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody, and displayed terrific trills, scales and control of the dramatic narrative. Near the end I briefly thought he might go into "full 'Barere" mode. He didn't end up playing quite that fast, but it was certainly impressive.

Then things started to get even better.

The first Takemitsu work seemed full of yearning, and had improvisatory sounding sections and clashing moods. It was very expressive, sounding rather like extremely late Impressionism. Mr. Sakata showed off his excellent control of very soft playing as this piece trailed off at the end. The second piece was more gentle, with charm and subtlety, and beautiful melodic fragments that had a loving, though dissonant accompaniment.

The first Scriabin piece was beautiful and nostalgic. Fragilité and the Poéme were gorgeous, full of Scriabin's typical sensuousness, tumult and outward reaching towards the ecstatic. The Fifth Sonata was also wonderfully played. It begins with a shocking "attack" which is followed by an extremely contrasting gentle theme, and later by a frenetic section. All of these, plus the explosive buildup leading to the conclusion were impressively played.

Mr. Sakata played one encore, a lovely reading of the Schumann/Liszt "Widmung." .

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