Thursday, February 9, 2017

When did you last hear all 12 of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes played as one work? Hommage an Liszt - Amir Katz performs an all-Liszt recital at the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival

Photo: Maxim Reider
The 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place from February 1st to 4th. It was hosted by the Dan Eilat Hotel, with concerts taking place in the hotel’s Tarshish Hall and the Big Blue Hall. As befits a festival, the Eilat performances offered some programs that were a step away from mainstream concert fare. One of the festival's most unique and significant concerts was Israeli pianist Amir Katz’ “Hommage an Liszt”, a complete recital of Liszt Études (February 2nd). In his program notes, Katz reminds the listener that these pieces “represent the peak of writing for piano of the Romantic period”.

Katz takes the listener into the world of Franz Liszt's Études with the much-loved “Liebestraum” (Dream of Love) No.3, Liszt’s setting of Ferdinand Freilgrath’s impassioned “O lieb’, so lang du lieben kannst” (Oh love, as long as you can love). Known for its singing melody and delicacy, Amir Katz, chose some daring pedalling, orchestrating the nocturne’s demanding sequences with its network of complex “undercurrents”, its farewell leaving the listener once more in the mystery of his own musings. Then to “Trois études de concert” (1845-1849), suitably referred to by the composer's Paris publisher as “caprices poétiques”. From “Il lamento” (The Lament), in which Katz fires the imagination with the drama inherent in tonal processes, with dissonances melting into harmonic tranquillity, with imposing utterances juxtaposed with fragility, he moves into “La Leggierezza” (Lightness), floating its weightless intricacy, presenting its intensity, his deft, splendidly clean fingerwork taking one back to the gossamer textures of lightness. No less rewarding was Katz' playing of the Impressionistically-hued “Un sospiro” (A Sigh), its huge technical demands (serving as dramatic and theatrical effects in Liszt’s own performances) in no way hampering Katz’ silken melodic lines and shimmering, flowing arpeggios.

Then to the “Zwei Konzertetüden” (1862-1863) composed by Liszt in Rome, with Katz’ playing of “Waldesrauschen” (Forest Murmurs) richly poetic and abundant in nature associations, followed by the playful, imaginative portrayal of “Gnomenreigen” (Dance of the Gnomes), Katz directing the listener’s attention to the piece’s impish, hopping, good-natured whimsy rather than to the fact that this is one of Liszt’s most difficult piano pieces!

The second part of the program was devoted to Franz Liszt’s “Transcendental Études”, a work begun when the composer was in his teens with its final version published in 1852, when the composer was 41. One of the most challenging works of  Romantic piano repertoire, Schumann viewed the 1838 version of it as “studies in storm and dread for, at the most, ten or twelve players in the world.” In his program notes, Katz, offering the audience the rare opportunity of hearing the work in its entirety, writes that, in his opinion, “transcendental” refers to the work’s “philosophical aspect rather than to the technical side.” Opening with the fleeting but uncompromisingly energetic “Preludio”, Katz invites his listeners to join him on a journey of vivid pianistic performance and intense emotions. A kaleidoscope of piano techniques, of the timbres created by textures and registers, of programmatic content (“Mazeppa”, for example) or visual associations, Katz’ warmth of tone and spontaneity, served by his unfaltering technique, gave the pieces an air of freshness, of endless discovery. And beauty of melody is high up on his list of priorities. Creating contrasts between pieces of high drama and massive textures, Katz’ signature tenderness and sensibility was woven into the flowing tranquillity of such pieces as “Paysage” (Landscape), the subdued swirling and strangely dissonant “Feux Follets” (Will-o-the Wisps), or the personal expression of nostalgia and delicacy in the ornamented, old-world sentiments of “Ricordanza” (Remembrance).

The Liszt recital is indeed a major milestone in Amir Katz’ career.  The “12 Études d’éxécution transcendante” constitute a large, probing and all-encompassing slice of life. In presenting them, Katz offers his audience a ravishing array of colours and dynamics in playing that is compelling and frequently stormy but never overblown or opaque. And his interpretation of Liszt is refreshingly devoid of egoism. In Amir Katz’ own words: “Performing the Études as a cycle is a captivating and rigorous autobiographical journey for both listener and performer.”


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