Julien Libeer offers mesmerizing Schubert at Miami Piano Festival

By Dave Rosenbaum

Julien Libeer performed at the Miami Piano Festival Friday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Photo: Gerrit Schreurs

Julien Libeer performed at the Miami Piano Festival Friday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Photo: Gerrit Schreurs

The Miami International Piano Festival continued its four-day “Discovery Series” with a recital by Belgium’s Julien Libeer Friday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. The 29-year-old Libeer, whose career has been based mostly in Europe, created some magical moments in a generous program of works by Bach, Schubert and Ravel.

Much of that magic happened in Schubert’s Sonata in G Major, D894, which opened the second half of the program.

Robert Schumann called this four-movement work “the most perfect in form and conception” of Schubert’s twelve sonatas (one of only three Schubert lived to see published). Libeer described the serene opening of the first movement Molto moderato e cantabile as “musical hypnosis.” 

The pianist cast that hypnotic spell with controlled yet dramatic playing, inserting the minute pauses between passages, as if he were allowing the note he had just played to float, expand and fall, then waiting patiently for the next one to arrive. The live close-ups of Libeer’s hands projected on a screen at the back of the stage heightened the effects of anticipation and suspended sound.

Libeer’s focus and concentration in the Schubert sonata were so intense as to be almost trancelike. Although the subtle spells and moods he created were occasionally interrupted by less-refined attacks in the minor-key storms of the Andante, the calm and serenity were quickly restored. Libeer seemed to contemplate the meaning of every note he played. Even the galloping Allegretto finale, a chance for Libeer to cut loose, was tinged with reserve.

Following the Schubert, Libeer displayed his speed and accuracy in Franz Liszt’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BMV 1052, from the dazzling, virtuostic runs of the opening pages to the speed of the majestic finale.

Libeer opened the program with Bach’s French Suite in G Major, a seven-part work originally written for harpsichord. Libeer displayed glistening, translucent tone in the first two sections, Allemande and Courant, then in the third section Sarabande previewed the subtle sense of timing and ability to portray tranquil moods that would prove to be his most remarkable attribute.

Those characteristics was also apparent in Le Tombeau de Couperin, which was composed by Ravel in 1914 as a tribute to friends who had died in World War I. Le Tombeau is surprisingly light-hearted for a memorial, Ravel once saying, “The dead are sad enough in their eternal silence.” No dirge-like adagios here, but Libeer’s rendition contained reminders of Ravel’s inspiration, imbuing the work with cold, bracing tone in the second movement Fugue and depicting the fifth movement Menuet with chilling clarity.

The encore was Pierre Sancan’s lively, playful Music Box, which put a sweet cap on a program that Libeer, addressing the audience, called “philosophical and heavy.” That it was, but thanks to Libeer’s delicacy and subtlety, it was also frequently sublime.

The Miami International Piano Festival continues with 14-year-old Leonid Nediak playing works by Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Nediak and Rachmaninoff, 3 p.m. Saturday. Florian Noack plays his arrangements of music of Bach, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Borodinand Rimsky-Korsakov 7:45 p.m. Saturday at 7:45. Both concerts are at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. miamipianofest.com.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Julien Libeer offers mesmerizing Schubert at Miami Piano Festival”

  1. Posted May 14, 2017 at 12:48 pm by Frank Cooper

    While I was a part of this event, I was also an audience member. This young man impressed me far beyond the videos of him on YouTube, for he and his music-making have what I call “presence.” And, behind the scenes, he is as genuine as can be.

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