Katz brings intimate approach to Miami Piano Festival Academy

By Lawrence Budmen

Amir Katz performed at the Miami International Piano Festival Academy Thursday night. Photo: Navaee

Amir Katz performed at the Miami International Piano Festival Academy Thursday night. Photo: Neda Navaee

The inviting ambience of the Cotilla Gallery at the Alvin Sherman Library on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Davie was more like a salon than concert hall Thursday night. With a few rows of chairs arranged close to the Steinway, the audience was literally a few feet from Israeli pianist Amir Katz.

In a recital spanning Baroque, romantic and early modernist repertoire, presented by the Miami International Piano Festival Academy, Katz matched the venue’s intimacy with playing that emphasized subtle introspection rather than hard-driving virtuosity. Katz’s rock-solid technique is not lacking in power but he holds it in check, making the keyboard-spanning volleys all the more effective and musically organic.

That was particularly evident in a distinctive reading of Schumann’s Kreisleriana. At times Katz’s fluid phrasing and astutely judged rubato made the score sound like he was actually improvising it. Agitated sections brought an aura of devilish dances under Katz’s nimble fingers. He brought a lighter, more florid touch to the lyrical moments, suggesting Chopin waiting in the wings. Schumann’s mood swings between spacious melody and vivacious impetuosity were conveyed in bold fashion.

Despite the room’s low ceiling, the softness of Katz’s wide dynamic palette was especially striking. In his most daring interpretive choice, Katz took the final movement at a restrained tempo with each note carefully etched and transparent. Throughout the performance, details that often emerge fudged or muddy were clear and strongly present. Katz’s perusal of this familiar warhorse was both individualistic and revelatory, making the listener discover Schumann’s inspired flights of fantasy anew.

Alexander Scriabin was one of the most original voices in the history of music. His early works are steeped in the Russian romanticism of Tchaikovsky while his later scores explore atonality and synesthesia. (Scriabin related colors to the notes in his musical palette.)

Katz offered three short works that explored part of that journey (which would come to full fruition in Scriabin’s final two piano sonatas). The harmonic ambiguity in the Poem, Op. 32, no. 1 is matched by overtones of passionate melody, the composer’s two sides in warring contrast. Katz underlined the work’s subtle interplay of divergent influences. In the more overtly virtuosic Etude, Op. 8, no. 2, his full-throttle traversal was balanced by more poetic contrasts of dynamics and hues.

Melodic paths take unexpected directions in Scriabin’s Fantasy, Op. 28. This large-scale work played to Katz’s strengths–waves of tonal shading, big-boned articulation and a willingness to meet the composer’s unique artistic impulses on their own terms. Katz captured Scriabin’s full extravagance and quirky diversions in equal measure.

The program opened with an expertly balanced and controlled traversal of Bach’s Toccata, D. 912. Katz’s idiomatic Baroque stylishness mixed crisp rhythms with evocative stasis.

Katz played Liszt’s Reminiscences of Don Juan, the concert’s concluding work, as an entertainment vehicle replete with joy and impish fun rather than as a grandiosely serious showpiece. In this pastiche of themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, there was thunder in the opening chords but “La ci darem la mano” sparkled, the ornamented variations light and robust.

Following Liszt’s powerhouse vehicle, two of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words made especially genial encores. Katz’s straightforward style avoided excessive sweetness while bringing out the beauty of flowing song from the keyboard in almost vocal fashion.

The Miami International Piano Festival Academy presents Francesco Libetta playing Delibes’ Falstaff, Schubert’s 34 Waltzes and 17 Landler and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons 8 p.m. Friday at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Miamipianofest.com

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Fri Jul 12, 2019
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