NEW YORK TIMES
"An uncommonly elegant pianist" (Anthony Tommasini)
"Mr. Nel has shown himself in recent seasons to be an excellent interpreter of Romantic music. Here he showed the ability to
address the Mozartean style with an elegance and vibrancy that served as a window into the music."
(Allan Kozinn) [Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival]
"In music breaking down tonality Anton Nel gave superb interpretations of Schoenberg's Six Little Pieces and Busoni's Sonatina
(James Oesterich) [Bard Music Festival]
August, 1987. Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor.
"Anton Nel, first prize winner in the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition performed Schumann's Piano Concerto
in A Minor, a piece that does not lend itself to the showy displays contest winners are often fond of. Nel was not only uninterested
in such matters but tapped into the deeper impulses of this music with remarkable maturity. In addition to a beautifully weighted tone
and a nearly flawless legato, Nel possesses the enviable ability to spontaneously react to what he hears. Thus the melodic exchanges
between the South African and members of the orchestra were as alive as they were tenderly wrought. One looks forward to hearing
this gifted musician again."
(Howard Reich) [Chicago Symphony debut at the Ravinia Festival]
CHICAGO SUN TIMES
Pianist Nel Performs Brilliantly
Anton Nel, pianist, at Mandel Hall of the University of Chicago, Friday: Rondo in G, Op. 51, No. 2, Sonata No. 23, Op. 57, Beethoven; Scherzo-Waltz, Chabrier; Capriccio, Faure; Caprice Italien, Poulenc; Sonatina, Welcher; Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, Schumann.
Mandel Hall was nearly full. Moreover, it was not a Hyde Park audience but the kind of public the university now is seeking: an audience representative of the entire metropolitan area. Box office records indicated that quite a few people, obviously impressed by Nel's success at Ravinia, had traveled from Highland Park for the event. That is a 70-mile journey, round trip, and it is the exceptional performer who can get listeners to travel that far to hear his work.
Recently, Chicagoans heard Rudolf Serkin at 85, and you might well wonder who of the younger pianists will sound that way when he reaches that age. I nominate Nel, who is only 26 and plays with the authority and artistic strength of someone who can go the whole way to the highest goals. He is a expert program builder, combining staples with things that are either unfamiliar or completely new and making them add up to genuinely exciting sequence of musical events. Thus, Beethoven's familiar "Appassionata" sonata, which was beautifully played, was prefaced by an equally rewarding statement of the little-heard Rondo, Op. 51, No. 2. This led to a group of three lighthearted French pieces (Chabrier, Faure, and Poulenc) realized with the lightness and verve that come only from a complete appreciation of the spirit of the music.
Brave man that he is, Nel began the second half of the program with new music - Dan Welcher's pithy Sonatina - and then proceeded to another staple, the Schumann Symphonic Etudes, which were realized in a fine bravura manner. The shifting of artistic gears required by the transition from Welcher to Schumann is something only another performer might appreciate, but it was done without a hitch.
(Robert C. Marsh) [Chicago Recital Debut at Mandell Hall, University of Chicago]
LOS ANGELES TIMES
"A pianist of exceptional sensitivity and stylistic discrimination" (Albert Goldberg)
"Nel is an exceptionally graceful and elegant musician...." (Charles Ward)
July 1997. Mozart Sonata in D, K. 306 for Piano and Violin.
Mozart's D Major Sonata (K. 306) was as close to sublime as the concert got. The program labels the work a violin/piano sonata, but, in fact, it is a piano/violin sonata. The violin plays a secondary, sometimes merely incidental, role to the piano.
Anton Nel was the pianist. A longtime asset to the festival, Nel provided crystalline clarity to this early example of Mozart's wise and creative ways with his beloved piano.
The South African pianist found the right balance between weighty seriousness and rococo lightness, a declamatory singing style and one that floats free. Throughout this handsomely modulated work, Nel captured its sense of formal perfection with limpid grace. Just as Mozart was fresh, so was Nel. He was occasionally daring, always articulate, wonderfully detailed. Nothing escaped his attention, but he didn't dwell on anything unduly.
With its combination of brilliance and intimacy, the D Major Sonata is one of Mozart's most satisfying works for the piano. Nel expressed the reasons why with restrained passion, beauty of tone in all ranges and quiet grandeur. He was personal but never eccentric, supple but exact. Nothing the rest of the evening equaled this combination of great music and great playing.
(R.M. Campell) [Seattle Chamber Music Festival]
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, David Hoyt conducting. Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.
Each concert had its highlights, but there were three performances which truly stood out. Anton Nel's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 on Saturday night was as close to perfection as is possible. His was an dynamically expressive performance of a musical war-horse which can sometimes become too familiar from over programming. Nel demonstrated introspection and musical insight, bringing out features of the work that are not often emphasized. This concert only cemented the impression that his overwhelming musicianship had demonstrated the previous afternoon during his recital.
A Splendid Display of superior musicianship
BEETHOVEN FESTIVAL, Thurs 22nd, City Hall; CPO conducted by Arjan Tien, soloist Anton Nel;
The Piano Concertos: No 1 in C major, Op 15; No 2 in B flat major, Op 19; No 4 in G major, Op 58.
"This was the first of two concerts in which South African pianist Anton Nel performed all five of the Beethoven
piano concertos on successive nights to enthusiastic audiences and tumultuous receptions.
I confess having been less than enthusiastic at the prospect of listening exclusively to piano concertos - and those of a
single composer - in successive concerts. It struck me as having all the prospects of proving a somewhat monochromatic
listening experience, notwithstanding the status of all of the works as favored items of the concerto repertoire. In fact,
the experience proved most rewarding, rekindling comparative insights into the works which years of familiarity had dulled.
Part of this was due to the order in which the works were played - not chronologically, for the C major concerto is the second
in order of composition, although the first to be published and numbered accordingly.
We commenced with the later C major, then, and moved on to the novitiate B flat, which Beethoven himself once described as
"not one of my best works"�. It dates from 1795 and, hearing its opening ritornello after the richer tones of the C major work,
its Mozartean protocols are apparent, not only in the type of solo line displayed, but more particularly in the distinctive use
of the smaller wind band. The opening movements of the three works also provide interesting contrasts, one being struck by
the featured use of different figurations in each: the C major dominated by foursquare scale passages; the B flat by bounding
arpeggios (repeated in the irritatingly engaging Rondo); the sublime G major by anxious chromaticisms.
But the concert was no mere musicological curiosity; it proved to be a vehicle for a display of superior musicianship, in all
three works, from soloist and conductor. The nearly full house (there were open places only behind the orchestra, in the chorus seating)
listened with rapt attention and rewarded each concerto with a greater ovation - that at the end of the concert assuming the unrestrained
enthusiasm generally associated with sporting events. Nel is a splendid interpreter of Beethoven. Of course, this presupposes a superior
pianistic technique, which he undoubtedly has and, more importantly, takes for granted. One accepts, therefore, that technical
considerations play little role in his interpretive choices; tempi, for example, are set not because of feasibilities, but because of the musical impact of the passage at the chosen tempo. And what impact he achieves! Phrasing is gorgeous, with a linear understanding that, by its simulation of
breathing concepts in the melodic lines, imports a sense of the organic. Balances between melodic, secondary and accompanimental elements
are rendered with great subtlety, investing divergent elements with a precisely judged differential character, now percussive, now beguiling,
now declamatory in effect. Nor is he afraid of living dangerously: some of the notes being delivered with so gentle a touch as to risk the
total failure of sound production. But - and this is the crucial observation - it is a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained; and what was gained
was some of the most sublime pianissimo playing one has heard in this lovely acoustic.
Dutch conductor Arjan Tien provided superb support throughout the evening; actually, more than mere support, for the orchestral contribution
had unfailing interest in its own right and gave the suitably scaled down orchestra (a 18.104.22.168.3 string disposition) fine opportunity to
demonstrate cohesive musicality. Tien is a very fine accompanist, anticipating the soloist well, maintaining appropriate orchestral tonal levels, and achieving superior ensemble with an unfussy elegance that is undoubtedly attributable to care in rehearsal. There were
momentary lapses - the opening of the C major Rondo was rhythmically unsettled - but such did not detract from the overall achievement.
Orchestral playing rose to the occasion and contributed in no little manner to an entirely memorable evening."
Friday, May 23
CPO conducted by Arjan Tien, soloist Anton Nel; The Piano Concertos: No 3 in C minor, Op 37; No 5 in E flat major, Op 73.
"If Thursday night's City Hall was gratifyingly full, Friday's was truly packed beyond capacity. One has but to mention that the Friends
of the Orchestra's bar ran out of wine to demonstrate that the organizers' expectations of numbers were hopelessly pessimistic! I was also struck by the number of tourists amongst the concert goers. The authorities need to remember that our tourists need entertainment in the evenings as well and that a great many of them will respond to music of this nature, performed at this level. How gratifying it is to know that there are persons who will be returning to communities spread across the planet with the tale of a quite memorable concert they experienced down in Cape Town. For memorable it certainly was, concluding with an ovation as lengthy and boisterous as anything I can remember. Soloist and conductor were called back time and again; orchestra members repeatedly called to stand and share in the accolades.
We commenced with an account of the dramatic C minor concerto. The orchestra, once again playing quite splendidly under the elegant
direction of Arjan Tien, delivered the lengthy - indeed, symphonic - exposition which commences the work. It was unusually delicate
in its opening phrases, building expectations with increasing intensity of tone and color until the piano entry. Nel burst in with an
undeniably percussive, even aggressive mien. The movement affords the pianist moments of great charm, too, but his account lingers in
the memory as virtuosic in the modern sense: full of bravura, display and passion, a creation of a composer Kenneth Clarke would
recognize as The Artist as Heroâ€�. Playing was assured and fluent; better, intelligent, with a refined sense of the architecture of the work.
One detail will suffice as example: the delivery of the coda, which revealed it to be a little miracle of structural detail, building in embryonic
fashion from the barest of fragments in a handful of bars to the fully fledged conclusion of a major movement. The succeeding Largo is one
of the composer's most glorious creations: a Nocturne, the pianism of which Chopin would have been proud. Nel gave of himself, here,
and showed the sensitive, perhaps even fragile personality behind the mesmerizing fingers. The final Rondo romped along in happy fashion,
string playing rising to the occasion with percussive chirpings quite worthy of the Cape's finest cicadas.
After interval, the concerto most had undoubtedly been waiting for: The Emperor. This was treated in The Grand Manner, its rich E flat
sonorities entirely appropriate for the nobility of its conception. Orchestral playing was assured, with fine contributions from horns and
timpani in their distinctive writing. A solitary wind wandered off the beaten track at one point, but that was atypical of the account. Nel
used the work as a vehicle for a display of tasteful virtuosity: a left hand which measured out the triplets against percussive right hand
figurations; double octaves which strode the length of the keyboard with pounded strength; arpeggios of precise definition and placement;
broken chord passages having machine gun regularity; dervish- whirling passage work which utterly captivated. And, centrally placed, a
pool of quiet beauty in an Adagio which had the huge audience as quietly content as a mother enjoying her sleeping baby. But there was
nothing quiet about the ovation which greeted the conclusion of the work, Nel and Tien receiving due tribute for a splendid musical
partnership over two memorable nights."