Libeer brings insight, pristine technique to a thoughtful program

By Lawrence Budmen

Julian Libeer performed Sunday in Aventura, presented by the Miami International Piano Festival.

Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, music it inspired, and a revelatory performance of Schubert’s keyboard swansong highlighted a stimulating recital by Julien Libeer at the Aventura Cultural Arts Center on Sunday afternoon, presented by the Miami International Piano Festival.

The Belgian pianist told the audience that he had devised a ninety-minute program that contrasted the preludes and fugues of Bach’s opus (in 24 major and minor keys) with later works of similar keyboard temperament. He presented excerpts from that conception and the result was enlightening. Libeer’s personal, at times unconventional, traversal of the Bach pieces set the works from later centuries in a new light, with the creative similarities and artistic progressions given firm focus.

Libeer’s pristine technique and idiomatic musicality are matched by insightful, probing interpretations that brought freshness and polish to familiar warhorses and fringe repertoire alike.

There was clarity in the fugal sections of the Prelude and Fugue in C, taken at a measured, unhurried pace. Beethoven’s Bagatelle in C minor was playful, with Libeer’s dynamic contrasts adding invigorating character. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A-flat was agile and classically proportioned, with every strand of the fugue clean and transparent even at an unusually fleet tempo. The restless melancholy beneath the dance rhythms of Chopin’s Mazurka in C minor,. Op. 53, no. 3 seemed newly defined.

Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A sparkled, the fugue dispatched with quicksilver lightness and a svelte touch. The crashing opening chords and spooky motifs of György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata 1 (on A) seemed right out of a Bernard Herrmann score for an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Libeer seemed undaunted by the cross keyboard runs at impossibly fierce speed. 

Mozartian brightness encompassed Libeer’s breezy take on Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat while the Prelude and Fugue in B Major was stated with broad eloquence.  Schoenberg’s moody Klavierstücke suggested atonal darkness, embellished by Libeer’s contrasts of tonal coloration and texture. 

A reprise of the opening Bach prelude concluded this fascinating juxtaposition of Baroque mastery and future innovation. Libeer played the scores without pause and a capacity audience was clearly transfixed by his distinctive programming and adroit presentation.

Following intermission, Libeer turned to Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major. Written during the composer’s tragic final year of 1828, both darkness and uplift are voiced through the score’s pulse. The pianist took a lyrical approach to the opening Molto moderato defined by carefully etched phrasing and dynamics built from soft shades to tumultuous climaxes. The movement’s final pages registered a sense of tranquility and resignation.

Libeer captured both the despair and melodic grace in the second movement, avoiding heaviness through a forward tempo and supple pedaling. A full measure of Viennese charm and elan enlivened a briskly paced Scherzo. In the final Allegro ma non troppo, Libeer distilled the more ominous undercurrents beyond the frothy surface. Every bar was infused with depth of emotion and carefully etched sonic variety such that the pianist seemed to be creating the work anew under his fingers.

Despite a standing ovation and cheers, Libeer avoided presenting an encore which felt entirely appropriate after this imaginative, intelligently conceived offering.

The Miami International Piano Festival presents 2018 Cliburn Competition winner Kenneth Broberg 7:30 p.m. January 28 at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Mon Jan 9, 2023
at 12:14 pm
No Comments