Two artists pay homage to French music at Miami Piano Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Konstantin Lifschitz

An immersion in French musical impressionism by pianists Francesco Libetta and Konstantin Lifschitz was the thematic journey for the two opening concerts in the Miami International Piano Festival’s master series Sunday at the Broward Center. Debussy and Ravel loomed large but forward and backward glances at composers who influenced or were inspired by impressionist artists and musicians provided context.

Lifschitz’s last festival appearance in 2008 was a marathon traversal of all twenty-four preludes and fugues in Books I and II of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. He was no less impressive in an all-Debussy program. A Russian virtuoso of the old school, Lifschitz’s big boned, take no prisoners technique is melded to an acute artistic intellect. He  delivered a riveting performance of Book I of Debussy’s Preludes. Eschewing the perfumed aura of many performances of these striking pieces, Lifschitz emphasized the music’s strangeness and originality. The clashing chords of Danseuses de Delphes, shimmering harmonies of Les collinesd’ Anacapri and rhythmic bite of Minstrels were strikingly realized. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair was played in a refreshingly straightforward manner, devoid of prettified excess.

Lifschitz’s crystalline  reading of the six Epigraphes Antiques channeled the scores’ austerity, the tonal and dynamic gradations recreating the ancient sonorities of Debussy’s vignettes. The playful tension and impulsive figurations of L’Isle Joyeuse seemed almost improvisatory, the fiery climax of Poissons d’or a meeting of incendiary Russian heat and pointillist sound worlds.

While a disappointingly small audience attended Lifschitz’s evening performance, the Amaturo Theater was nearly filled for Libetta’s matinee program. A superb colorist, Libetta prefers understatement to overt pianistic bombast; yet he can unleash tremendous power in the big climaxes.

Francesco Libetta

Libetta’s lighter touch and pastel infused palette is well matched to French impressionist scores. The music of Gabriel Faure served as  rhapsodic interludes—the ripples of Impromptu No. 2 gently etched and the melodic outpouring of Nocturne VI soaring in an almost vocal manner. Precisely articulated triplets and arpeggios were assayed at a taut pace in a blockbuster reading of Ravel’s Toccata.

Messiaen’s Regarde l’espirit de joie picks up where the impressionists left off, the opening hymn turning into a synthesis of bird song and clashing textures. Messiaen’s jagged rhythms and cluster chords emerged fast and furious, Libetta drawing an almost symphonic sonority from the keyboard.

The soft delicacy of Ravel’s A la maniere de Chabrieret Borodine served as prelude to Libetta’s most impressive offering—the five tone paintings of Ravel’s Miroirs. The rapid hand-crossings of “Noctuelle” and lightness and fluency of “Un Barque sur’ocean” were infused  with glints of color, the ringing bells of “Les vallee des cloches” deft in syncopation. “Alborada dl gracioso” was rich in Andalusian languor, the knuckle-busting showpiece played with devilish zest.

For his encore, Libetta turned to the more romantic strains of Benjamin Godard’s Valse, melodic and aristocratic with a razzle-dazzle coda tossed off in stellar fashion.

The Miami International Piano Festival continues 7:45 p.m. Monday at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale with duo-pianists Konstantin Lifschitz and Francesco Libetta playing Debussy’s Et blanc et Noir, Ravel’s La Valse and Messiaen’s Visions. 305-935-5115;

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Mon Mar 4, 2013
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