Libetta shows fire and poetry at piano festival

By Alan Becker

Miami has always been given a bum rap when it comes to culture. While this cannot be justified with the wide variety of concert activity available, it’s support for the arts that South Florida has often been wanting, as organizations tend to rise and fall at the whim of supporters reluctant to open their pocket books in order to keep things afloat.

 Thankfully, the Miami International Piano Festival is still very much with us, and the keyboard riches it provides continues to enrich the area. Francesco Libetta’s appearance Monday night at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater, is just one of many performances this artist has given us at that venue. His technique is amazing, and his musicianship assures us of much to relish in his appearances. 
Schumann’s Fantasiestucke consists of eight thoroughly engaging pieces and presents many aspects of the composer’s complex personality. In paying hommage to one of the composer’s favorite authors, E.T.A. Hoffmann, the music explores fantastic realms. Libetta phrased with loving attention to detail, and made the most of the music’s quiet lyrical expression. In such outgoing movements as Soaring, Whims, and In the Night, he mostly kept the force in check so as not to overpower the music. Dream Visions raced along with its sprightly swirls, and the End of the Song closed the work with majesty and the satisfaction of hearing a more unified concept than usual in tying the disparate strands together. 
In Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Allegretto alla Barbaresca we have a work rarely heard in the concert hall, with justifiable reason—most pianists would not be willing to take the chance of performing it in public. It’s chock full of every death-defying pianistic technical trick, and requires pinpoint accuracy as the notes leap all over the keyboard. Libetta, hands possibly taken over by demons, took all of the tortures in stride and left the audience amazed that the unbelievable had taken place before them. 
Miroirs by Maurice Ravel is a suite of five magical Impressionist pieces. Opening with Noctuelles, the last piece actually composed, Libetta was all transparency and shade as the moths flitted about in almost improvisational fashion. Oiseaux Tristes (sad birds) was among the composer’s favorites, and it is easy to visualize these birds lost in the immense forest. Here, and in the closing Valley of the Bells, Libetta’s ability to control the softest of dynamics without losing the notes, benefitted the music greatly. The ebb and flow of the sea in Une Barque sur L’Ocean foamed and splashed about with great control as to keep it from turning into a tsunami. Sometimes less is better, and it was so here. The Alborado, or morning song, with its Spanish flair is the best known of the pieces and, while well done, did not erase memories of several other pianists more willing to invest greater character in its Spanish rhythms. 
Franz Liszt’s Bagatelle Without Tonality is a curiously forward looking piece, and shows the composer reaching toward the harmonic future. Mazeppa, the fourth of the Transcendental Etudes, makes for a grand (and loud) close to a most satisfying program, and the audience refused to let the pianist go until he delivered three substantial Chopin encores.

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Tue Mar 17, 2009
at 12:52 pm
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