Amir Katz presents an impressive Schumann evening at Miami Piano Fest

By Michael Palmese

Amir Katz performed a Schumann program for the Miami International Piano Festival Monday night at the Broward Center.

Amir Katz performed a Schumann program for the Miami International Piano Festival Monday night at the Broward Center.

At first sight, a program of three piano works encompassing only three years of Robert Schumann’s life from 1836 to 1838 might leave one concerned about presenting too limited a view of the composer.

However, the creativity behind the selected repertoire offered to listeners Monday evening at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater showcased some of the most profound and expansive music Schumann ever composed. In the impressive hands of Israeli pianist Amir Katz, the audience at the Miami International Piano Festival’s Masters Series received an intimate look into the composer’s mind.

Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) Op. 15, the first work on the program, is a reflection by Schumann on his own childhood experiences in thirteen movements. Covering a wide range of youthful notions and extramusical ideas, performing the entire set requires a pianist with a high degree of nuance and attention to detail.

Making a concerted effort to obey Schumann’s original tempo markings, Katz successfully navigated through each shift in mood. Particularly in “Träumerei” (Reveries), the seventh tableau, the pianist’s delicate touch and careful dynamic detailing provided a refreshing interpretation of the best-known portion of the work.

The eleventh piece, “Fürchtenmachen” (Frightening) presents particular challenges with the frequent juxtaposition of sharp contrasts in rapid succession. Rather than shying away from the abrupt shifts composed by Schumann, Katz seemed to forge ahead, distinguishing each section with its own distinct shadings in a way that afforded the audience a sense of propulsive dramatic action.

Ending the first half of the program was Schumann’s Sonata in F Minor, Op. 14. Referred to by the composer as a “concerto without orchestra,” the virtuosic writing throughout all four movements, coupled with the sheer length, places a heavy demand on the performer’s endurance.

Katz proved himself eminently capable of moving skillfully through even the most difficult passages. Katz highlighted Schumann’s percussive moments in the Scherzo, while paying equal attention to the embedded lyricism. The flashy final movement is a showcase for agile and dexterous piano technique and Katz handled the challenges with crisp execution, a feat made all the more impressive by video projection that allowed the audience to see his hands at work.

Closing the evening was Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David) Op. 6, a massive eighteen-movement odyssey through Schumann’s inner psyche as represented by Florestan and Eusebius, two characters invented by the composer to represent the opposing sides of his personality. Each movement is attributed to one or occasionally both of these characters and Schumann again places great demands on the performer to properly articulate the ongoing dialogue between the two.

The kinetic sixth movement contrasts to the pathos-laden seventh, a feature Katz nuanced with particular composure. In the shift between movements eight and nine, the pianist was in complete control as the atmosphere change was sudden, but not jarring.

The fifteenth movement was another prominent display of the pianist’s technical ability, as the wave-like arpeggiations seemed to flow effortlessly. The degree of clarity Katz was able to elicit from the piano as the work quietly ended in the subterranean register rounded off an enjoyable and illuminating recital.

The Miami International Piano Festival closes Tuesday night with Balazs Szokolay in an all-Liszt program 7:45 p.m. at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater.

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Tue Mar 25, 2014
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