Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pianist Amir Katz performs Beethoven in Tel Aviv

On December 22nd 2012, the Israeli-born pianist Amir Katz held a recital to a packed hall of the Enav Cultural Center, Tel Aviv. The recital is part of the artist’s current concert series of Beethoven sonatas he is performing all over Germany.

Born in Ramat Gan in 1973, Amir Katz began piano studies at age 11, winning prizes in national competitions only four years later. The recipient of European scholarships, he studied at the International Piano Foundation at Lake Como, there taking lessons with Leon Fleisher, Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Murray Perahia. He completed his studies in Munich with Elisso Wirssaladse and Michael Schäfer. Katz is the  prize-winner of several international competitions. Amir Katz is now living in Berlin, Germany.

Amir Katz chose to open with the Op.2 sonatas, three sonatas Beethoven dedicated to Haydn, with whom he had studied composition in the first two years of his living in Vienna. The sonatas, composed between 1793 and 1795, were premiered in 1795 at the home of Prince Carl Lichnowsky, with Haydn in attendance. They were published in 1796. Beethoven, only 25 when he composed them, was, however, already a master of the late Classical style, his writing in the four-movement form constituting evidence of his viewing the piano sonata with the same seriousness as he did his chamber- and symphonic works.

Amir Katz opened with Sonata no.1 in f minor opus 2, with playing that was fresh, intimate, muscular and flexible. Never over-pedaled, Katz goes for clean lines, allowing the musical phrase to dictate timing. In the decorative second movement – Adagio - his lightness of touch displayed presence, his careful pacing making for a sympathetic reading of the text, yet direct and free of tiresome sentimentality. Following the elegant Minuet, the Finale was both decisive and sensitive, its melodies and counter-melodies finding a fine sense of balance, the pianist’s virtuosity never only a means to itself.

Sonata no.3 in C major, opus 2, is a moodier piece. Katz deals well with the opening movement’s rapid changes of temperament, his masterful pianistic touch collecting the composer’s flow of ideas into an integrated whole. In the second movement, Katz draws our attention to Beethoven’s references to the first movement. Then, following wistfully magical moments, we are suddenly a witness to Beethoven’s tortured soul in the form of angry outbursts, all these gestures, with their myriad of fine details, once again, woven into one well-controlled whole. Katz presents us with Beethoven’s soul, with his vulnerability. The agile, light Scherzo provided dramatic relief, another angry contrast raising its head in the Trio, all followed by the energetic rondo of the Finale.

In Sonata no.2 in A major, opus 2, Katz challenges his listener to follow him in beautifully crafted playing through the complex-, quirky- and often intense musical maze of the opening movement. His playing of the Largo creates a sense of well-being, to be punctuated by a disturbing, forceful outburst, the end of the movement then crafted with great sensibility. Following Katz’ playing of the Scherzo’s light, charming gestures, tempered by the occasional dark, Beethovenian cloud, we find ourselves in the final Rondo, with the artist’s gracious, spider-web fine lines propelled by lithe, easeful passagework. Once again, however, Beethoven launches headfirst into an intense, disturbing moment before allowing the work to end tranquilly.

Twelve years and many important works later, Beethoven, now almost deaf, wrote his Piano Sonata no.23 in f minor opus 57, “Appassionata”. Written in the summer of 1804 in Baden, where the composer was holidaying following at the advice of his doctor, it was this sonata Beethoven was said to have liked best. Published in 1807, the name “Appassionata” was added by the publisher. When someone asked Beethoven to explain the meaning of this sonata, he is said to have retorted: “Read Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’”… Dedicating the work to Count Franz von Brunswick, Beethoven was actually in love with the count’s two sisters; this may possibly account partially for the work’s raging moods and duality. How does Amir Katz approach this epic work, a work we have heard performed by so many pianists, its score, however, divulging few clues as to exactly how Beethoven would have played it? For Katz, timing is everything. In his hands, the sonata’s capriciousness swings from veiled, mysterious passages to full-on, unbridled drama, from dark introversion to weightlessness and from magically, lyrical meditative moments on to the torrential finale. At no time does Katz, in his virtuosity, spontaneity and freshness of sound, overstep the boundary of good taste; at no time is his playing marred by opaque density, excessiveness, affected mannerisms or egoism. His playing rides high on articulacy. Taking a step back, Katz presents his audience with Beethoven the composer and the experimenter, Beethoven the human being and with intelligent enquiry into the intriguing potential of the musical text itself. 

Amir Katz played two encores – Franz Liszt’s devilish Mephisto Waltz no.1, then a nostalgic, touching performance of Chopin’s Waltz opus 64, no.2.         

No comments: