Lebhardt conquers a challenging program and acoustic at Miami Piano Festival

By Inesa Gegprifti

Daniel Lebhardt performed at the Wolfsonian Museum Sunday night in Miami Beach for the Miami International Piano Festival. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

In his Florida debut, pianist Daniel Lebhardt brought buoyancy and four B’s — Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Bartók — to Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series on Sunday evening. Besides the alliteration, the program showed a coherence and thoughtfulness matching Lebhardt’s pianism, which oscillated between youthful energy and measured maturity. 

The festival is for the first time presenting some of its concerts at the Wolfsonian Museum in South Beach, an intriguing backdrop for the performance despite its acoustical challenges. 

Opening with Bach’s Partita No. 6, the young Hungarian pianist seemed to take a beat to adjust to the resonant room. While elegantly rendered, the first four of the work’s seven movements nevertheless sounded timid.  

But when he unfurled the opening chord of the Sarabande, Lebhardt found a more expressive and outgoing voice. He brought the slow dance to life with tasteful ornamentations and a gentle sense of ebb and flow. The closing Tempo di Gavotta and Gigue movements acted like counterparts to one another: the former, graceful and light; the latter erupting with insistent musical inflection and assertive canonical entrances. 

Brahms’s last piano solo work, Klavierstücke, Op. 119 exhibit various facets of the composer’s character. Having to negotiate pedal use and dynamic levels due to the ricocheting acoustics, Lebhardt managed to produce sensitive and impassioned playing. 

The first Intermezzi — the poetic and transparent B minor, and the slightly agitated E minor — were phrased with a clear sense of their musical architecture. Unfortunately, the C major Intermezzo was far too speedy. But the concluding E-flat major Rhapsody, while also quite fast, was held tightly by Lebhardt with unfaltering rhythmic determination and a grand symphonic tone projection. 

Opening the second half was Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 18, one of the composer’s most deceptive, joke-infused sonatas. Lebhardt’s playing showcased his understanding of its tricky structure and rhetorical devices. He effectively enunciated the articulations and stark dynamic shifts to give an exciting account of the sonata. 

Lebhardt embraced the mercurial nature of the Allegro and the exquisite simplicity of the Menuetto. The Scherzo could have used more definition in its staccato passages, particularly in the lower register, but the Presto con fuoco finish galloped forth with a consistent, ebullient  pulse. 

Easily the highlight of the evening, Bartók’s Out of Doors suite (1926) made for a magical exploration of folk customs and nature, with Lebhardt taking full advantage of Bartók’s evocative soundscape. He captured and confidently delivered the essence of each movement with flair and an inventive color palette. 

“With Drums and Pipes” projected rhythmic clarity and “Barcarolla” offered a delightful layering of textures. “Musettes” recreated the timbre of bagpipes through its undulating trills and drones, while “The Night’s Music” conjured up fragmented bird and insect calls coupled with echoes of folk tunes and a ruminant, chorale-like middle section. 

The suite and the program closed with Lebhardt’s exuberant charge through “The Chase,” whose demanding passages and sheer power he controlled superbly. A delighted audience coaxed him back for an encore, “The Peacock,” from Bartók’s Three Hungarian Folk Songs from the Csík District.   

The Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series continues on April 18 with Georgian pianist Nicolas Namoradze. www.miamipianofest.com

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Mon Feb 24, 2020
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