Mona Asuka: Schubert, Liszt
In Schubert’s C minor Impromptu, Mona Asuka’s evenly balanced opening G natural octaves and plaintive shaping of the single-line phrase are offset by the rigidly voiced chords that follow. The whole interpretation similarly alternates between tender moments and monochrome rigidity. The E flat Impromptu’s rapid scales are less about pearls than shark teeth, although the central minor-key section has an uncommonly understated grace (as opposed to Schnabel’s angular lunging ahead). While the slowly paced G flat Impromptu is texturally well balanced, one can predict nearly every one of Asuka’s tiny pauses at cadence points and phrase ends. A lack of expressive variety and lightness of touch underlines the final Impromptu’s arguably repetitious character.
Asuka’s Schubert‑Liszt transcription interpretations are also hit and miss. Her choppy phrasing of the right-hand accompanying line in ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ pales next to the floating eloquence of Kissin’s DG version, while the colourful registral interplay of ‘Ständchen’ is reduced to black-and-white literalism, certainly when heard alongside Horowitz’s miraculous late-period recording (comparisons with Horowitz are unfair, yet still fair game). Conversely, Asuka’s singing tone reveals itself in ‘Du bist die Ruh’, and her bass-register rumbles in ‘Der Wanderer’ project the kind of shattering intensity this score requires.
While Asuka obtains just the right shimmer and delicacy in Liszt’s ‘Gondoliera’, her habitual ritards dissipate the music’s inherent lilt and forward motion, although the ‘Canzone’ grabs your attention via the pianist’s power and unabashed rhetoric. She conveys the disparate dramatic qualities of the Tarantella’s contrasting sections, albeit without the supple ease one hears from Hamelin, Lortie and Chamayou. All told, an uneven release.