Lowenthal marks Liszt’s birthday in style at Festival Miami

By Alan Becker

Saturday October 22 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt. For the occasion, Festival Miami welcomed the Liszt scholar and virtuoso Jerome Lowenthal to Gusman Concert Hall to celebrate the event. Lowenthal himself will shortly be observing his eightieth birthday, and is amazingly trim and agile, and his skillful abilities were heard to glowing effect Saturday evening.

Lowenthal is a legend. His extensive recorded repertory reflects a lifetime of exploration, and his studies with Olga Samaroff-Stokowski, William Kapell, Edward Steurmann, and Alfred Cortot, helped prepare him for his many years as a preeminent instructor at the Juilliard School. His all-Liszt program consisted of the Sonata in B minor, and sections from the Years of Pilgrimage, representing six cities visited during the composer’s travels. His amusing brief anecdotes set each piece in context with the composer’s love life and other important events.

The Bells of Geneva, played in an earlier version than the one usually heard, is a Nocturne that rises to a sonorous climax. It served as an excellent prelude to the ambitious single-movement Sonata. Rafael Joseffy, one of the composer’s students and professor of piano at the National Conservatory in New York, stated that the work “is one of those compositions that plays itself, it lies so beautifully for the hand.”

This may be so with respect to the beauty of the writing, but no technical novice could attempt the treacherous waters. Lowenthal brought a lifetime of thought to the music, and essayed Liszt’s power and drama with an authority and passion few have been able to emulate. A few minor splashes were to be forgiven, as he played through the music in long sweeping phrases, and sonorous strength. There was nothing timid about this playing, yet the lyrical sections were supple and achingly beautiful. When the Fugue arrived it did so logically, as an outgrowth of what had come before–not always accomplished as well as here.

From Rome came To the Cypresses of the Villa d’Este II:Threnody, and the cascading Fountains of the Villa d’Este. The extensive fountains can still be seen today, and their waters frolicked spilled, and spurted in Lowenthal’s rippling fingers. The Petrarch Sonnet 104 is a piano transcription of Liszt’s original setting of a song, based on a text by Italian scholar and poet Francesco Petrarch
“I find no peace, nor reason to make war”. The tortured soul expressed in musical terms was caught perfectly with all the passion and chill that could be summoned with ten fingers.

Venice and Naples were represented by a Gondoliera, Canzone, and Tarantella. The last, a whirlwind of a dance, calling for all the dexterity one could muster, and the ability to handle the rapid repeated notes. The latter were only fitfully present, but everything else sounded forth in glorious technicolor from hands that might have been fatigued at this point.

An encore, and a respite for the pianist was the icy cold Nuages Gris (Grey Clouds). As one of the composer’s late experimental works it incorporates unresolved dissonance and quartal harmonies, later to be taken up by Schoenberg and the Viennese Expressionists.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Lowenthal marks Liszt’s birthday in style at Festival Miami”

  1. Posted Oct 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm by Ana

    This was a most special concert, and one that I will remember for a long time. What a performance from a legend!!

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Mon Oct 24, 2011
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