Gekic provides Miami Piano Festival highlight with passion and poetry

By Lawrence Budmen

Kemal Gekic performed music of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Balakirev Sunday afternoon at the Miami International Piano Festival.

Kemal Gekic made his South Florida debut at the Miami International Piano Festival in 1999. In the intervening years he has become a familiar presence on the local concert scene. His Sunday afternoon recital on the concluding day of this year’s edition of the festival, however, was one of his most impressive solo performances to date.

The Croatian-born faculty member of Florida International University’s music department offered dynamic readings of the four etudes of Chopin as prelude to an all-Russian second half at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. (Gekic replaced Jorge Luis Prats, the originally scheduled pianist who cancelled his engagement.)

Commencing the first Chopin etude with lightning-fast triplets, Gekic sailed through the four pieces, displaying digital accuracy and a broad range of contrasting dynamics. Playing at feverish pitch, he combined intense romantic passion and big-boned virtuosity, seasoned with an array of tonal colors.

Gekic’s attention to detail brought out many inner lines and voices with clarity. Channeling the hesitations of phrasing that characterize Chopin players of a bygone era, Gekic revealed an innate affinity for the lithe dance rhythms and finely sculpted pianistic filigree beyond the pyrotechnical display. In contrast to the overly cool Chopin of Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy two nights earlier, Gekic’s performances authentically captured the music’s inner pulse and emotional velocity.

Rachmaninoff’s moody Elegie and two of his preludes brought out Gekic’s softer side, the flowing line and finely turned melodies offering calm before stormy versions of four Etudes-Tableaux. The cascading runs and martial strains of these bravura vignettes were captured in bright sound at often dizzying speed.

Gekic’s own transcription of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain was in the tradition of Liszt’s many arrangements and paraphrases. Opening with a rolling bass line, Gekic added figurations and runs to the original text, his hands furiously crossing the extreme ends of the keyboard, producing sonorities of orchestral heft. This high-octane transcription was both demonic and a virtuoso romp. In the soft coda, added to the original score by Rimsky-Korsakov from sketches for an unfinished Mussorgsky opera, Gekic beautifully captured the solemnity of Russian church bells, concluding this keyboard tour de force on an understated note.

Balakirev’s Islamey¬†has been called¬†the most difficult solo piano work ever written. Whether that is true or not, this “Oriental fantasy” is not for the meek of heart or pianistic technique. Gekic attacked the score briskly, the playing always clean and transparent. His touch was unusually light and breezy, the score’s myriad colors emerging organically, without affectation or exaggeration. The soaring melodic strophes of the central episode were assayed in a straight forward manner. In the waves of octaves and hand crossings in the score’s final section, Gekic turned up the volume and heat.

After repeated curtain calls and cheers, the reluctant pianist finally offered Dvorak’s Humoresque as an encore. Even in this thrice familiar cameo, his approach was freshly minted, alternately dance like and dreamy with a light and sensitive touch.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Mon May 20, 2013
at 10:59 am
No Comments