Pianist Martinez Mehner displays drama, tenderness in Schubert and Ligeti

By Dorothy Hindman

Claudio Marinez Mehner

The second evening of the Miami International Piano Festival’s three-day Master Series featured Spanish pianist Claudio Martinez Mehner in an impassioned program of Bach, Ligeti, and Schubert.

A rapidly rising star after winning three international competitions in his early twenties, Martinez Mehner left concertizing for seven years due to an injury. He has recently returned to the stage for select performances, making his Miami debut in the Piano Festival’s Discovery Series in 2010.

With the opening of Bach’s Partita No. 4 in D, Martinez Mehner immediately communicated the type of pianist he is: muscular, passionate, and a little rough around the edges.  Digging right into the Overture, Martinez Mehner’s Bach showed a romantic sensibility with liberal use of pedal.  In contrast, the ensuing Allemande had a delicate, luminous tone throughout, showing Martinez Mehner’s mastery of piano colors.  Each of the remaining movements was characterized similarly by unified color and dynamic range, and a tendency toward richness and weight.  This approach was most successful in Martinez Mehner’s loud, grand interpretation of the closing Gigue, although it could have benefited from more balanced definition in the voicing.

It was the second group of equally challenging works, four of Gyorgy Ligeti’s monumental Etudes, which revealed Martinez Mehner’s depth as an artist.  In Fum, from Book II, bright, bell-like chords in the upper register are answered by muted variations in the lower and middle registers, and Martinez Mehner’s control of piano timbres defined the work with a clarity that was missing in the Bach.  Fanfares, from Book I, features syncopated chords accompanied by rapid, ascending scales in alternating hands; Martinez Mehner’s rendition captured a jazzy, improvisatory quality that brought the work to life.  The stunning Cordes u Vides, emulating open strings on a violin, demonstrated the delicate, shining tones that Martinez Mehner has at his disposal.  He handled the wickedly fast, tour-de-force series of ever-rising scales of Book II’s L’escalier du diable with aplomb.  This was a multilayered, bravura performance, carved expertly through dynamics and clear voicing, and a superb introduction for the audience to the 20th century masterpiece.

For the final work of the evening, Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959, Martinez Mehner brought both fervent romanticism and clarity of texture to bear.  His Allegro was grand and sweeping in conception, delivered in a richly Romantic style, using dynamic contrasts to define emotional states to strong effect.  However, Martinez Mehner is capable of great tenderness as well as roughness, and the Andantino movement stood out as the most sublime performance of the evening.  Simple but heartrendingly musical, the pianist’s mostly restrained melody was full of longing, punctuated by sporadic, stabbing chords.  His Scherzo alternated shimmering, playful lines with bursts of power, contrasted by a gracefully refined Trio.  In the Rondo, Martinez Mehner departed from the lyrical theme time and again with ferocity and musical depth, illustrating that this is no lightweight piece, but rather a transformative journey.

The Miami International Piano Festival’s Master Series concludes 8 p.m. Wednesday with Steven Osborne performing music of Beethoven, Ravel, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff. browardcenter.org

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Tue Mar 6, 2012
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