Gekić lights up FIU Music Festival with rarely heard “Hexameron”

By Lawrence Budmen

Pianist Kemal Gekić performed the rarely heard, multi-composer Hexameron Saturday night at the FIU Music Festival.

The piano fireworks of Franz Liszt and the introspective miniatures of Frédéric Chopin dominated a brief but compelling recital at the FIU Music Festival on Saturday night. Three pianists took turns on the Wertheim Concert Hall stage, each with their own distinctive perspective on the keyboard icons of the romantic era.

The 75-minute program opened unpromisingly with a cold, characterless reading of Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 61, no. 1 by Lindsay Garritson. Garritson, who can play powerhouse Prokofiev, seemed totally at sea in the wistful lines of Chopin’s melodic writing. 

Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole seemed more attuned to her pianistic strengths. The “La Folia” theme of the introduction was stated with exactitude in Liszt’s Totentanz mode. Her bright sound and agility in the “Jota Arargonese” section adroitly captured Liszt’s fusion of Latin dance and pyrotechnical display. Still, Garritson’s was the least impressive Liszt playing of the evening.

FIU alum Silvije Vidovic proved a stylish Chopin player in a finely proportioned traversal of the Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, no. 1. His terraced gradations of tone and color  enhanced the idiomatic elegance of his performance, but he could also bring thunder to Chopin’s more tempestuous central episode. The Croatian pianist’s own composition Haze was a brief, Chopin-esque vignette. 

His transcription of “Oh My Love” by Riziero Ortolani was cast in the large-scale, sweeping style of Rachmaninoff but did an arrangement of a pop song really belong on a concert that contrasted the subtle and bravura sides of the grand piano? Vidovic’s interpretation of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody emerged muscular and propulsive, taking the main subject at rapid speed, with octaves cleanly articulated.

Longtime FIU faculty member Kemal Gekić (who was Vidovic’s teacher) concluded the evening with a real rarity—Hexameron-Brilliant Variations on a Theme of Bellini. Thos confection was written by a committee of composers that included such celebrated figures as Liszt, Chopin, Carl Czerny and Sigismond Thalberg as well as more obscure figures such as Johann Peter Pixis and Henri Herz. Based on the melody of the baritone-bass duet “Suoni la tromba” from Bellini’s I Puritani, this set of six variations with an elongated introduction and epilogue-finale (by Liszt) manages to be musically distinctive, imaginative and greatly entertaining, despite the diversity of creative contributions.

Gekić is a Liszt specialist and he even conjured up the composer’s visual appearance, wearing a cape and his long hair over his back and shoulders. His authoritative Liszt playing equally encompassed the singing line of the first statement of the theme and fiery extremes of volume. Gekić drew an almost orchestral sonority from the piano in the big climactic moments. He could bring fluidity and carefully tinted and scaled dynamic contrasts to the funereal arioso of Liszt’s second variation (Moderato). 

Czerny’s Vivo e brillante section is every inch as intricate and challenging as his exercises that have bedeviled piano students for more than a century but Gekić pulled it off with lightness, verve and total digital precision. There was beauty of sound and exquisite touch in Chopin’s moody Largo (Variation VI). Gekić pulled out all the stops for the Mephisto Waltz-like Molto vivace quasi prestissimo finale, playing at top speed and volume. His exhibition of bravura pianism in this unusual score was an exhilarating conclusion to a lively evening that emphasized the piano’s dynamic side

The FIU Music Festival presents the Amernet String Quartet with violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Mari-Liis Pakk, violist Stephanie Block and cellist Yeesun Kim 7:30 p.m. October 30 at the FIU Wertheim Concert Hall in Miami. The program includes quartets by Ravel and Mozart and Enescu’s Octet.

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Sun Oct 24, 2021
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