Sunday, December 18, 2016

December 2016 - Amir Katz performs Bach, Schubert and Liszt at the Enav Cultural Center, Tel Aviv

Photo: Robert Recker

Amir Katz (b. Israel 1975), today residing in Berlin, has recently been in Israel to give two recitals at the Enav Cultural Center, Tel Aviv. This writer attended the event on December 10th 2016.

The artist opened the program with J.S.Bach’s Partita No.2 in C-minor BWV 826, one of the six Bach wrote between 1726 and 1730, eventually grouped into a collection he titled “Clavier-Übung” (Keyboard Practice), not just pedagogical material for his sons but also a tribute to Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor at St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, who had given the same title to a work in 1689. In suites comprising 16th century courtly dance forms with the addition of non-dance movements (those referred to by Bach as “galanteries”), Bach takes liberties to depart from the traditional Baroque suite, with Partita No.2 concluding with a capriccio in place of the traditional gigue. In one of Bach’s most dramatic partita moments, Katz’ dramatic presentation of the opening Grave adagio sinfonia is a wake-up call to the composer’s daring and gregarious use of dissonance, Katz followed it directly with his serene reading of the Andante, in which he pauses to highlight key notes before launching energetically into the fugue to celebrate the beauty of the two-voiced writing pervading much of the Partita. Relating to the unspeakable beauty and delicacy of the Allemande, Katz subtly weaves its dovetailing melodic lines into harmonic interest. Then to the energy of the French-style Courante – gripping, intense, embellished and satisfying – in which the artist allows every strand to speak, its vitality suddenly a past memory as Katz takes the listener via his own profound sensibilité into the inner world of the Sarabande, his tranquil pace allowing the movement’s fragile, intimate course to unfold. The immediacy, vigour and rich scoring of the Rondeaux take over, the quirky seventh leaps there to tease and entertain, with the  Capriccio, ending the work with its tenth leaps and runs, turning into a complex three-voiced fugue. Amir Katz’ articulate playing supports the argument for playing Bach on the modern piano and even with economic use of the sustaining pedal, which he does with great skill, never blurring a gesture.

Of late, Amir Katz has been performing and recording much Romantic music. His recital proceeded with Franz Schubert’s Impromptus opus 90, D.899, written in 1827, a year before the composer’s premature death. The four pieces were given the title of Impromptu by publisher Tobias Haslinger, who was hoping to cash in on the amateur market and the fashion for pieces of this kind, such as those by Bohemian composer Jan Václav Vorísek, the title suggesting improvisation, casualness and brevity. Considering their complexity and technical demands and the fact that opus 90 was composed between the two halves of the heavyweight “Winterreise”, nothing of the publisher's suppositions could be further from the truth. After holding on just that bit longer to the opening imposing, stark, empty g octave in Impromptu No.1 in C-minor, Amir Katz, delving into his palette of textures and colours, then divulges the piece’s constant contrast of decisive strength and vulnerability, of minor and major, with Schubert’s most silken and tender utterances emerging from harmonic changes arising from the lowered second of the scale. All these elements become welded into an almost seamless continuum, the coda a mere comforting major remembrance of what was. Emanating from Katz’ flawlessly agile finger-work, the flowing of triplets of the E-flat major Impromptu soar heavenwards and back down again, their apparent weightlessness taking the listener through the gamut of Schubertian tonal transformations, then to be contrasted by the serious, more earth-bound minor section, its seething inner voices reminiscent of textures of the first section. Katz winds the piece up with a confident, explicit flourish. Then to the tranquillity of the G-flat major piece, with Katz inviting the listener to follow his beautifully chiselled playing of the lyrical melody, the tireless bubbling stream of the inner voice articulate but never intrusive, with the piece’s darker moments transitory. In Impromptu No.4 in A-flat major, enigmatically opening with 30 bars in A-flat minor, Katz follows the transitions of Schubert’s soul in spiralling and starry cascading from minor to minor again via the major key, with respite never there for long. Katz’ reassuring soft-spoken left hand melody-playing, in contrast to the aching second subject melody, lends a distant voice of warmth and songfulness to the performance. Amir Katz’ recent CD “8 Impromptus” (Orfeo label) features the D899 and D935 Impromptus

In 1832, the not yet 21-year-old composer and virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt heard the great violinist-composer Niccolo Paganini performing at the Paris Opera. Mesmerised at the violinist’s mastery and at his hypnotic powers on the audience, Liszt wrote to a friend in Geneva: “…what a man, what a violinist, what an artist...What sufferings, what misery, what torture in those four strings.”  Inspired by Paganini’s brilliance, he decided to write such violin virtuosity into a piano work, resulting in his 1838 arrangement of five of Paganini’s Caprices for solo violin and “La Campanella” (the finale of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.2), reworked in 1851 to be titled “Six Grand Etudes after Paganini” and dedicated to Clara Wieck Schumann. In the first prelude, bristling with scales and arpeggios, Liszt evokes Paganini’s imitation of two violins playing together, one in constant tremolo, with Katz imbuing the soundscape with generous use of the sustaining pedal. Beginning, as it were, in mid-phrase, the second piece presents a simple theme punctuated with sections of such techniques as chromatic sixths, scales in tenths and double octave passages. Enjoying the bell-like effects, the charm and delicacy of Katz' playing of No.3 “La Campanella” (Little Bell), one cannot ignore its fierce demands of tricky leaps, fast, repeated notes and other extraordinary piano feats. Reminding the player of its origin, No.4 is written on a single stave; Katz’ clarity of sound and careful phrasing added to its vivacity and brightness, rendering this study of arpeggios a tasty morsel. Katz addresses the familiar motifs of “La Chasse” (The Hunt) with simplicity, creating a rondo of sunny exuberance, the Six Grand Etudes concluding with Liszt’s Theme and Variations on Paganini’s Caprice No.24.  Sailing from one transformation to the next, the artist brought out the different scoring and character of each variation, from outgoing and vivacious utterance to introverted otherworldly moments, bringing the concert to an end with a work of the full-blown Romantic style and demanding great technical and musical virtuosity. Liszt’s piano works often find their way into the hands of pianists engaging in heavy, athletic performance and acrobatic show. Amir Katz steps back to look at the music, never allowing its virtuosity or his own dexterity to drown out musical transparency or the work’s own inner life and meaning.

For his encore, Amir Katz performed Liszt’s “Liebestraum” (Dream of Love) No.3 (1850), played with expressive understatement and serenity.




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