Thursday, May 30, 2013

Amir Katz performs Beethoven sonatas in Tel Aviv

On May 25th 2013, Amir Katz performed three Beethoven sonatas at the Enav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv. The recital was one of a series presenting Beethoven sonatas the pianist is performing throughout Europe. His previous Israeli concert of the Beethoven series in Israel took place December 22nd, 2012.

Born in Israel in 1973, Amir Katz began his piano studies with Chana Shalgi at age 11,  soloing with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra at age 15. He is the winner of several international competitions and has received a number of scholarships. Among his teachers were Sulamita Aronovsky, Elisso Wirssaladze, Michael Schäfer and Leon Fleisher. Currently living in Germany, Katz performs widely in Europe, Asia and North America; his recordings have won him glowing reviews.
The program opened with L. van Beethoven’s Sonata no.27 in e minor opus 90; composed in 1814 (the composer’s late middle period), it is one of Beethoven’s shorter sonatas, however, forward-looking in its technical- and emotional demands. The fact that the composer was now penning tempo markings in German, rather than Italian, already stamps the work with the uniquely personal approach present in his late sonatas.  Consisting of two movements, the work is a mosaic of forthright gestures, intensive moments, of impulsiveness, of mysterious- and personal inferences. There is not one gesture that passes by Katz as, with his characteristic individual approach to each fragment, he allows for a slight flexing of tempo to suit each one. In the second movement, marked “Not too fast, and highly songful”, Katz creates its melodiousness in a warm, rich yet fragile sound not devoid of contrasts. He presents each modulation as one would think Beethoven intended it - as a transition within the soul. It is not coincidental that the composer had thought of titling the sonata “Struggle between Head and Heart”.

In Sonata no.28 in A major opus 101 (1816), the first of Beethoven’s late period, Katz takes the audience with him into Beethoven’s introspective mindset where all proves to be transitory. The composer himself referred to the first movement of this sonata as a “series of impressions and reveries”. Amir Katz approaches it with subtlety, he “plays” with its motifs, coloring its ruminations with the sense of spontaneity and improvisation that does away with some of the movement’s bar-lines. With the more energetic, happier, mostly tranquil second movement’s soundscape created by clean fingerwork and a sense of weightlessness, fleeting moments of urgency never sound “technical” or muddy. Katz’ playing of this sonata illuminates the function of transitions in Beethoven's music, of their strategic timing and, most importantly, to where they each lead. The third movement is marked “Slowly and longingly”. Here, Katz allows its subdued fantasy to unravel at a serene pace; control is everything here. In the finale, musical ideas collect in capricious abundance and voices are at play. Even in its intense moments, Katz never produces thick, ungainly textures; the brilliant, many-dimensional fugue travels an exciting course as it builds up to each entry; and, ultimately, as layers are pared down, Beethoven’s vulnerability and sense of gloom show through. The pianist’s performance of the work was enormously satisfying.

Performance of Beethoven’s Sonata no. 29 opus 106 in B flat major “Hammerklavier” occupied the second half of the Tel Aviv concert. Composed 1817-1818, Beethoven was in his late 40s (totally deaf) and feeling comfortable with using large forms. The sonata spreads before the listener an expansive canvas of grand gestures, radical artistic statements and new piano idiom.  It is little wonder that few pianists took on its performance before the last decades of the 19th century. Amir Katz cuts no corners in his deep enquiry into the work, daunting as it is in  technical demands, yet even more so in its narrative, its uncompromising struggle and depiction of suffering. Once again, the pianist allows the flow of individual gestures to emerge, fashioning their incongruence into a meaningful whole. From volatile outbursts to bewitching dream sequences, from naiveté to the multi-headed monster of the 4th movement fugue, Katz has examined it all under his own personal magnifying glass. His fine memory, superb technique (including much fast, clean pedaling) and rich dynamic palette breathe palpable life into the mammoth sonata, setting before the audience the workings of one of music’s most perplexed and enigmatic minds.  Amir Katz is insightful. He must surely be one of today’s most interesting Beethoven exponents.

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