Party of one: Florian Noack turns symphonic works into keyboard gems at Miami Piano Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Florian Noack performed his transcriptions of Bach and Rimsky-Korsakov at the Miami International Piano Festival on Sunday at the Aventura Arts & Culture Center. Photo: Danilo Floreani

Adapting a score to instruments the composer didn’t write for is an art unto itself: There are at least as many failures of transcription — the process of reconfiguring a composition for a different instrumental setting — as there are successes.

Belgian pianist Florian Noack is one of those adventurous artists willing to take the risk, however, by creating solo keyboard editions of orchestral works. The 33-year-old presented two of these as part of his recital on Sunday afternoon for the Miami International Piano Festival at the Aventura Arts & Culture Center, and he made unimpeachable cases for both.

Noack opened with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 — a natural for such treatment since Bach himself often re-worked orchestral scores for the harpsichord. Noack’s adaptation of Brandenberg No. 3 started at a brisk clip, in a setting replete with rapid hand crossings and shifts between major- and minor-key passages that emerged more emphatically on a keyboard than they do with an ensemble. This was a vivid and well-balanced reading of Bach, thanks to Noack’s rhythmic exhilaration, lithe touch, strong sense of pulse and variegated dynamics (the latter unattainable on a harpsichord).

Noack also tackled a large scale orchestral showpiece with his 20-minute abridgement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and he largely succeeded in turning the score into a piano-centric opus. Bold chords taken at a deliberate pace heralded the opening movement, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” and the heroine’s narrative theme — usually heard in solo violin — was reconceived for the right hand with delicate coloration. Noack concluded the movement with Lisztian pyrotechnics.

He stated the theme of the second movement, “The Kalander Prince,” in an almost classical manner, devising a fresh approach to familiar material. During the third movement, “The Young Prince and the Young Princes,” the composer’s very Russian fascination with Orientalism was audible in Noack’s elegant touch, with the pianist’s virtuosic bona fides really shining through in the movement’s central, dance-like episode.

A flurry of pianistic fireworks launched the final movement, “Festival at Bagdad,” yet the score’s soft conclusion felt almost dreamy in Noack’s rendering. All told, his reconception of this orchestral warhorse was entirely convincing, and a testament to the considerable imagination Noack brought to distilling a multi-colored orchestral panorama down to a single instrument.

For the second half of his program, Noack compared and contrasted various Transcendental Etudes by Franz Liszt and Sergei Lyapunov, alternating between the two composers’ complimentary works.

Lyapunov, born 48 years after Liszt, took it upon himself to complete a cycle of etudes started by Liszt based on each of the 24 major and minor keys. Liszt got through twelve. Lyapunov — a Russian nationalist, musically speaking, in the mode of the Mighty Five — wrote the rest, commencing his dozen with a characteristically ruminative and moody Berceuse in F# Major.

Noack drew out the singing melodic line in the svelte paragraphs of the Berceuse. He elicted the tension and unease in the restless figurations of Liszt’s “Chasse=Neige,” and dispatched clusters of notes at dizzying speed in Lyapunov’s “Ronde des Sylphes.”

“Lesghinka,” also by Lyapunov, found Noack delivering almost orchestral sonorities from the Steinway in a Georgian dance piece whose Eastern musical impressionism recalled the faded orchestral miniatures of Albert Ketelby (In a Persian Market, In a Chinese Temple Garden), although Ketelby was never Lyapunov’s creative equal.

In Liszt’s “Harmonie du Soir,” another Noack selection, regal-sounding melodic progressions clash with unsettled harmonics. Liszt’s originality in that moment was pathbreaking — he was writing atonal music, near the end of his life, long before it emerged as a developed, theorized system under the likes of Arnold Schoenberg.

Noack’s performance of this harmonic outlier was alive to every nuance and surprising turn of phrase. The pianist let loose in the concluding Allegro Agitato Molto, but his immaculate technical command, intellect and musicianship embodied Liszt’s challenging writing not with mere bombast, but with personality and deep artistic contemplation.

Sustained applause and bravos from the audience brought Noack back for an encore from a very different genre: Fats Waller’s Bye Bye Baby, played with the complete idiomatic facility of a stride pianist, in a change of pace that Noack clearly enjoyed as much as concertgoers did. It should be interesting to watch the future efforts of this fascinating young player as he continues to defy concert convention.

The Miami International Piano Festival presents Dmitry Ablogin playing works by Taneyev, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Medtner 5 p.m. May 21 at the Aventura Arts & Culture Center.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Party of one: Florian Noack turns symphonic works into keyboard gems at Miami Piano Festival”

  1. Posted May 01, 2023 at 4:33 pm by Frank Cooper

    A brilliantly written account of what must have been a most memorable recital!

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Mon May 1, 2023
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