Chopin-Schumann marathon opens Miami Piano Festival

By Alan Becker

Frederik Chopin

Frederic Chopin

The Miami International Piano Festival’s “blockbuster tribute” to Chopin and Schumann opened the Festival with no fewer than four artists giving what can only be described as mini-recitals. The total performance time added up to nearly four hours, and no one who attended Thursday’s program at the Lincoln Theatre could complain of not being given their money’s worth.

This being the 200th anniversary year of the birth of both composers, all of the pianists were respectful of musical requirements, and gave moving performances–some filtered through their own unique interpretive prisms.

Kemal Gekic

Kemal Gekic

Among the highlights of this seemingly endless marathon of music was Kemal Gekic’s intense and almost violent approach to the Chopin Scherzo in B minor. The jagged rhythms were played with fierce virtuosity by the Croatian pianist yet contrasted beautifully with the gentle phrasing of the wrenching middle section. There was no attempt to calm this disturbing music. From the opening seventh chords to the closing notes, the performance grabbed one by the throat and held on.

Surprisingly enough, following a gentle, filagree-laden Berceuse, Gekic segued into the first movement of the composer’s famous Sonata in B flat minor with lyrical tenderness. Taking the first movement repeat, he saved most of the heat for the remaining three movements. After the intense concentration of the Marche funebre the closing will-o-the-wisp Finale flew by like a breeze.

Ilya Itin

Ilya Itin

Russian pianist Ilya Itin opened with a weighty, if understated performance of Chopin’s great Fantasy in F minor, which eschewed any attempt to impress by over-emphasizing the substantial technique required. His playing of the two Op. 34 Waltzes and the E minor Posthumous Waltz were done with relatively little use of pedal, and displayed a refreshing lightness of texture.

Mischa Dacic

Misha Dacic

Turning to Schumann, Serbian pianist Misha Dacic is much to be praised for choosing the composer’s Humoresque, Op.20. Easily as charming and imaginative as the more frequently performed Carnaval and Kreisleriana, the suite typifies Schumann’s shifting moods and alternates tender lyricism with coruscating scales and sharp rhythmic accents and delicacy–all captured by Dacic with unaffected beauty of tone and technique in total service to the music.

Jorge-Luis Prats

Jorge Luis Prats

The marvelous artistry of Jorge Luis Prats, unfortunately came last, after many in the audience had already left. While the program ended just before midnight, those who stayed were treated to a performance of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes Op. 13, that was memorable for the Cuban pianist’s ease of execution, and inclusion of the Posthumous Variations, rarely encountered at recitals. Prats can also chalk one up for musicianship that transcends the ordinary and remains unaffected regardless of the challenges.

The Miami International Piano Festival continues through Sunday at the Lincoln Theatre. www.miamipianofest.com.

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Fri May 14, 2010
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