Sunday, December 16, 2018

Pianist Amir Katz performs Chopin's Op.10 and Opus 25 Etudes to a packed house at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies

Photo: Stéphane de Bourgies
On December 9th 2018, Israeli pianist Amir Katz performed Frédéric Chopin’s Op.25 and Op.10 Études at a concert of the Sunday Evening Classics series of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University).

Chopin wrote the two collections over some eight years. Three more Études (not performed at the recital) followed in 1839. Written between the ages of 19 and 23, Chopin published his first études - Op. 10 - in 1833, by which time he had developed a considerable reputation in his native Poland and in the salons of Paris. He dedicated them “to my friend, Franz Liszt”. Op.25, published in 1837, was dedicated to Countess Marie d’Agoult (who happened to be Liszt’s mistress).  Unlike the studies that have been the drudgery of many a young piano student, Chopin’s études take for granted the pianist’s absolute mastery of the instrument; beyond their huge technical demands, they form a kaleidoscope of dazzling tone poems - works concise in length but of immense effect

A while ago, I spent time listening to Amir Katz’ CD of Chopin’s Etudes, a recording made in April 2015 in Berlin for the ORFEO label. The Jerusalem recital offered another opportunity to ponder these pieces and Katz’ interpretation of them. The pianist chose to open with the Op. 25 Etudes, these representing a crucial milestone in the composer’s development as a virtuoso pianist and composer. The artist reminded the listener of Chopin’s innovative use of chromatics, colour and texture and of the sheer opulence of the pieces. There is a lot happening and a lot to take in, as the pianist takes the listener on a whirlwind trip of Chopin’s seemingly unbounded world of fantasy -  to mention a few of the pieces: the opening study, its magical melody issuing each group of feather-light sextuplets, or the agitated but charming frivolity of No.4, as its melody rides the backbeat, and No.5, with its dissonant grace notes teasing the melody of the two outer sections, its languishing left hand melody in the middle section perhaps a message from Chopin begging the listener’s pardon him for his indulgent but ever-entertaining caper. Then there is the drama and intensity of No.10, with its extravagant, rapid octaves (to be played legato!!) and punctuated by a gentle, shell-shocked middle section (or is it the listener who is shell-shocked?). As to the suspenseful No.11, considered one of Chopin’s most difficult études; how fortunate and strategic it was that Chopin added the first few bars just before publication (on the advice of his friend Charles A. Hoffmann) before the pianist launches into “Winter Wind”, more the intensity of a tsunami; Katz does not allow its profusion of notes to blur the melodies existing in it. And then there are those breathtaking, magical moments - the gossamery featherweight, fast-flying No.2, over in the blink of an eye, and Katz’ playing of the C-sharp minor No.7, its reticent introduction issuing in a melody shaped and timed so sensitively by him and of indescribable and caressing beauty

To the Op.10 Études, opening with Katz’ ebullient and (literally) open-handed playing of the No.1 in C-major, cascading fearlessly up and down the keyboard, its broad arpeggiated theme sometimes spanning three or four octaves in a single bar, followed by his delicate, smooth treatment of No.2, the gliding right hand filigree chromatics belying the piece’s stringent technical demands. And how direct, wistful and personal his playing was of No.3 was, with its mix of melancholy and affection. As to No.5, Katz, staying well clear of the excessive speed and rough accents so prevalent in performances of this miniature, presents its floating magic and melodiousness in delicately crafted gestures, his playing no less weightless in the magical No.11, the étude’s enharmonic shifts weaving its dainty dreamworld. With the 12th Étude, all delicacy is swept away, to be replaced by the stark reality of the November Uprising (1831); Chopin, reacting to the Russian bombardment of Warsaw, exclaimed: "All this has caused me much pain. Who could have foreseen it?"  Katz’ presentation of the Revolutionary Étude conveyed the composer’s anger and despairing message in a dazzling, intense performance.


With the Op.10 dedicated "à son ami Franz Liszt", Amir Katz performed Franz Liszt’s dreamy (Chopin-tinted) “Consolation”. The pianist expressed his delight at playing on the hall’s fine Steinway Model D concert grand. It was his first appearance at the Mormon University.



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