Ayana Tsuji Live in Montreal
The Japanese-born violinist Ayana Tsuji was 18 years old in May 2016 when she won first prize in the Concours Musical International de Montréal, but you wouldn’t know it from her debut recording. Perversely, for a release intended to celebrate a major new talent, the booklet contains no biographical information about Tsuji, although we do get a photo of her wearing all six of her gold medals and beaming, as well she might.
Because the performances captured on this disc – each taken live from a different round of the competition – really do speak eloquently. As a programme, it’s bizarre. As a portrait of the artist, however, it’s highly effective, and I’d suggest starting with the Saint-Saëns, performed with the pianist Philip Chiu. The first impression is of enormous assurance: rich-toned and suitably zigeuner-ish on the low notes of the Introduction, and then brilliant, poised and delightfully playful in the Rondo. Tsuji throws high notes away with nonchalance and accelerates gleefully into runs. It’s properly capricious, and feels like a live performance rather than a test-piece, fully meriting the storms of applause at the end.
That same confidence and electricity permeate a skittish account of Stravinsky’s Duo concertant: Tsuji and Chiu pay the music the compliment of not taking it entirely seriously. Besides these two performances, the Sibelius sounds slightly more reserved – as if Tsuji is slightly overawed by Giancarlo Guerrero’s broad, storm-swept orchestral accompaniment – though the unshakable poise, gleaming sound and (in the finale) that hint of a rhythmic kick and a sparkle in the eye are still all there. Where does a young violinist as impressive as this go next? It’ll be fun to find out.