Gekic opens piano festival with remarkable marathon feat

By Lawrence A. Johnson


 Kemal Gekic is not human.

The Croatian pianist opened this year’s Miami International Piano Festival Sunday with a  double-barreled display of stamina and virtuosity that even now seems hard to believe.  In the afternoon, Gekic performed the complete twenty-seven Etudes of Chopin (Op. 10 and 25), and the Polish pianist’s Four Ballades. Tackling those intensely demanding works would have been enough for most musicians, but Gekic followed it up the same night with all twelve of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, capping the day with Liszt’s epic Sonata in B minor.  If the Emperor Joseph II believed Mozart’s music had too many notes, imagine what he would have thought had he been sitting in the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theatre on Sunday.

I caught the second all-Liszt half of Sunday’s marathon.  There’s no doubt that Gekic, who teaches at Florida International University, possesses one of the most formidable technical arsenals in the business, with nary a dropped note in all the flood of keyboard torrents Liszt demands.

 The Sonata in B minor is, arguably, Liszt’s masterpiece, an epic yet tightly woven work reconciling brilliant display and dramatic development, the long single movement ingeniously built from a variety of musical themes that are transformed over the long journey.

 Gekic attacked this music with leonine ferocity yet always held the longer view within sight. Rarely will one hear Liszt’s bravura performed with such polish and forceful command, as in the fugal scherzo. Yet Gekic also held the lyrical episodes in a finely judged balance, rendered in a limpid, pellucid tone. The climactic return of the chorale-like theme had a sense of grand inevitability about it and Gekic did what only the greatest artists can accomplish, which is make one hear even this keyboard warhorse with fresh ears.

 If the Sonata wasn’t enough, performing all 12 of Liszt’s knuckle-busting Transcendental Etudes without a break on the first half was an even more astonishing feat. The fact that Gekic performed these tortuous works—among the most difficult music in the piano repertoire—virtually note-perfect is a testament to his steel-fingered musicianship.Rarely will one hear this repertoire tackled with the kind of fearless bravura and nearly faultless accuracy. As etude followed etude, Gekic handled the fistfuls of notes with nary a slip. 
Yet for all the blazing virtuosity, over the ninety-minute haul of all twelve etudes, it was a bit overwhelming, and even numbing.  All credit to Gekic, but the overstuffed first half had more of a feel of a public recording session—which it was—than an audience-friendly recital program, and proved a bit too much music to swallow at one sitting even for the most hardcore Lisztian.

  The Miami International Piano Festival continues 8 p.m. Monday at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theatre with Francesco Libetta performing Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, Ravel’s Miroirs and Liszt’s Mazeppa and Bagatelle sans tonalitie. 954-462-0222.

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Mon Mar 16, 2009
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