Kosuge's debut recital here (sponsored by the S&R Foundation two years after she won its Washington Award for young artists) was a big enough event that Ambassador Hiroyasu Ando, Consul General of Japan in New York, introduced her. More importantly, Kosuge played with spectacular poise, technique, and poetry. Was she perfect? Not quite, but she'll have awhile to grow artistically.
Kosuge has lived in Europe since 1993, studying with Karl-Heinz Kämmerling and András Schiff, and this orientation was reflected in a mostly Austro-Germanic program.Boldly starting the evening with Buson's virtuoso transcription of Bach's Chaconne, she displayed a wide range of dynamics and touch. Contrasts were maximized, but still the piece was given an organic flow that didn't overly sectionalize the variations. The parallel runs were delivered with dazzling bravura. Kosuge used the sustain pedal relatively heavily but still sensitively, and she applied moderate rubato in a Romantic reading (aptly, since this piece is as much Busoni as Bach, though lately some pianists have favored a more austere approach) with a somewhat Russian flavor.
Next came the small Haydn Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI-42, though she made it seem bigger than usual. To a degree, that backfired on her, as she achieved that effect by emotionally inflating the slow movement to an extent that arguably overwhelmed the outer movements. By making it dark and heavy, she overcontrasted it with the lighthearted opening movement, and then she took such a fleet -- if technically impressive -- tempo in the finale that the structural balance was further tipped in favor of the middle movement. That said, listeners of Romantic inclination would find her interpretation more interesting than typically subdued, conservative Haydn readings.
The first half was completed with Beethoven's monumental "Appassionata" Sonata. Here's a piece that can thrive given a Romantic interpretation, and Kosuge delivered a highly dramatic performance. The opening was quite legato, but with clipped phrase endings, once again displaying her taste for contrasts. On the larger scale, the mood thrillingly swung between nocturnal brooding and vehement passion. If there was a problem in this electric rendition of a piano warhorse, it was excessive use of the sustain pedal. In bass passages with complicated passagework, Kosuge's pedaling created too much resonance and made the texture too dense, without enough air between the notes for clarity. Conversely, on descents into the lower reaches, sometimes she didn't pedal the final note of a phrase, resulting in a disturbing timbre change. That said, it was otherwise a powerhouse reading of visceral intensity. And though it's hardly an important musical point, the excitement of Kosuge's reading was visually accented by the way this diminutive artist repeatedly rose up from the bench to get more weight behind her fortissimo attacks.
After the intermission, Ms. Kosuge returned with Takemitsu's "Rain Tree Sketch." Strongly perfumed, Expressionist as much as Impressionist, with every musical gesture loaded with portent, it was a reading of concentrated poetry, exquisite control of dynamics and tone, and quite possibly the evening's highlight despite its brevity.
But it had to compete for that honor with the following performance of Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze. Kosuge's acutely poetic sensibility and love of contrast are perfect for Schumann, and especially this series of 18 miniatures. Alternating wit, drama, and effulgent lyricism, it was pure delight. The beauty and great variety of Kosuge's tone production was masterfully displayed. And it suffered no pedaling problems, thanks to both naturally clearer textures and Kosuge's judicious application of the soft pedal to rein in the resonance.
The encores, all solidly 19th-century Romantic, nonetheless offered variety: the Iberian exoticism of Granados, brilliant Liszt, and songful Chopin.
Yu Kosuge at age 22 is already very, very, very good. In a few more years, or months, or even weeks, she may be great. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is a buyer at Sound Fix, a hot new record store in Williamsburg.