Noack brings back the art of transcription at Miami Piano Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Florian Noack performed at the Miami Piano Festival Saturday night in Miami Beach. Photo: Monika Lawrenz

Florian Noack performed at the Miami Piano Festival Saturday night in Miami Beach. Photo: Monika Lawrenz

The art of the instrumental transcription has deep roots that extend back to the Baroque era when Bach and Vivaldi adapted scores conceived for one instrument or ensemble to a different solo or chamber configuration. In the centuries before recordings and broadcast media became part of the cultural milieu, piano arrangements were the main way music was widely disseminated through home performance. Franz Liszt took this instrumental transformation into the concert hall with his bravura reinventions of vocal and orchestral music. 

The Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series paid tribute to that tradition Saturday night with Belgian pianist Florian Noack at the Colony Theater playing a concert of his own transcriptions.

The program was substantially changed from the originally announced lineup, with slated Liszt arrangements of Mendelssohn lieder and Noack’s versions of Rachmaninoff and Borodin music not performed. 

Rather, Noack offered a brief but diverting sampling of his pianistic transformations, ranging from a Baroque concerto to Russian romantic orchestral standards and a Viennese bon-bon. Noack’s variants were highly imaginative and finely displayed his considerable performance skills.

In 1711 Vivaldi composed his Concerto for Four Violins in g minor. Around a decade later Johann Sebastian Bach adapted the work into a concerto for four harpsichords, changing the key to A minor. Noack’s single keyboard version of Bach’s work manages to ingeniously encompass most of the solo instrumental voices and the string orchestral lines. The springy rhythm of the initial Allegro had jazz-infused overtones. In the Largo, Noack’s sweeping opening chords and rapid figures in the right hand were less a literal transference of the original score than a vibrant reworking of Bach’s writing. The vigorous final movement found Noack bringing clarity to the rapid passagework. His sensitivity of touch and strong sense of rhythm were consistently impressive.

There have been numerous piano arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Most have simply followed the melodic lines without attempting to adapt the dark colors of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral scoring. The results have usually proved unsatisfying. 

Noack’s reboot was considerably more ambitious and largely succeeded on its own terms. The solemn opening theme was taken at a slow tempo with Noack adding rippling figurations. Lisztian keyboard spanning octaves painted the clashing battles between the Montagues and the Capulets. Noack captured the bass lines as well as the lyrical melodies of the love themes and the big reprise at the climax was given full Technicolor treatment. His astutely conceived edition was true to the scale of Tchaikovsky’s musical canvas as well as melodic facility.

Noack’s  truncated version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic Schéherazade lasted less than 20 minutes, barely half the span of performances of the orchestral version. That had the virtue of not wearing out its welcome. Of the four movements, only “The Young Prince and the Young Princes” was played in something near its entirety. 

Noack’s transitions between sections were elegant and coherent, never sounding like musical patchwork. He captured the oriental coloring of the heroine’s famous violin theme and produced a veritable orchestral storm on the Steinway for “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship.” There were wild tempo fluctuations in his take on “The Calendar Prince” and lovely etching of the prince and princess’ music. The dancelike contrasting section was turned into an opportunity for keyboard fireworks and, with rapid hand crossings, Noack brought full force to the shipwreck sequence. Beautiful soft playing in the coda capped this interesting medley of highlights from a thrice familiar work.

Less familiar tunes from the Waltz King, Johann Strauss, Jr., took center stage in Noack’s Paraphrase on Diverse Waltzes, a glistening showpiece that brimmed with the essence of three-quarter time. For encores, Noack abandoned his transcription theme for original piano vignettes. He drew an array of tonal shadings in Lyapunov’s Transcendental Etude No. 1 (“Berceuse”). Anatoly Liadov’s Prelude in F sharp Major, Op. 36, No.1 was a brief nocturnal essay, beautifully communicated.

This talented pianist has programmed and recorded rarities by Alkan, Medtner and Dohnanyi. In future piano festival appearances, he should include some of that repertoire as well as his fine transcriptions.

The Miami International Piano Festival Discovery Series concludes with an evening of operatic excerpts and piano transcriptions featuring pianists Kemal Gekic and Florian Noack 7:45 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.



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Sun May 14, 2017
at 12:30 pm
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