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Of late, Israeli pianist Amir Katz has been immersed in the musical world and piano works of Franz Liszt. On April 14th, 2018 he gave an all-Liszt recital as part of the Piano Recital Series of the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv. Born in Ramat Gan, Israel, Amir Katz today resides in Berlin.

Katz chose to gently lure his listeners into the rich and complex world of Liszt and his piano music via Consolation No.3 in D-flat major S.172, taking time to spell out each melodic gesture and each turn of harmony of rare beauty and Chopinesque delicacy in silky, glittering subtlety with just a hint of nostalgia. He then embarked on the S.144 and 145 Concert Études. The three concert etudes S144 are virtuosic essays from Liszt's early creative period. “Un sospiro”, with its drama and reminiscences, displays Katz ‘ skillful handling of the lush arpeggios that never overshadow the melody, however light, followed by both the full tutti alongside the eloquence and freshness of his gossamer touch in “La leggierezza”. Then, following a grand introduction, to the pianist’s intensely personal reading of “Il lamento”, as he invites the score, with its alien harmonies and interesting passagework, to take him and the listener into its range of emotions.The Zwei  Konzertetüden S.145 opened with the sparkling “Waldesrauschen” (Forest Murmurs), its sixteenth-note movement descriptive of forest movement, calm, floating and graceful, at times, swirling and agitated at others with its streams of cascading figures. Katz’ unwavering and crisp rendition of “Gnomenreigen” (Dance of the Gnomes) presented the humorous, feisty, good-natured and somewhat devilish character of this piece. Published in 1862, Mephisto Waltz No.1, S.514, a demonic, whirling dance, displaying Franz Liszt's dazzling mastery of energy, takes its inspiration from Lenau’s version of the Faust story; its music effectively portrays the evil temptations generated by Mephisto. It also refers to Liszt’s own virtuosic career and to sociocultural concerns of the time, including the widespread fascination with the virtuoso musician as a demonic agent! I think, in Amir Katz’ case, we can rule out the latter. Between the frenetic, fully “orchestrated” outer sections of Mephisto Waltz No.1, Katz gave tender expression and nostalgic whimsy to gestures of the middle section.

Following the intermission, Amir Katz performed the Piano Sonata in B-minor S.178 (1853), a work dedicated to Robert Schumann that represents the pinnacle of Liszt’s compositional achievements.  Katz’ articulate reading of the mammoth opus and his perspective of its cyclical structure guided the listener through the transformations of its themes, its sweeping energy and play of textures and tempi, his virtuosic skill and stamina (devoid of all dense, over-muscular display) serving him splendidly in the piece’s full-on, (indeed, mephistophelian) moments. Making for ravishing contrasts were some moments of exquisite refinement and fragility. Katz’ strategic timing made the work all the more palpable.

Of Franz Liszt’s very many (mostly) solo piano settings of works of other composers, we heard the pianist in superb arrangements of two Schubert Lieder. Katz’ playing of Schubert’s “Ständchen” (Serenade) - the much-loved love-song coloured with just a hint of grey cloud - was all flowing charm, beauty and songfulness and as lush as the song’s nature description. Katz’ rendition of the "Erlkönig" (Erlking) made for an astounding end to the evening, as he engaged his consummate technique to recreating the ballad’s drama, mystery and urgency, appropriating separate timbres to each of the three characters, playing them out against the dark, wild night and relentless sound of the galloping horse’s hooves, in a performance of rare involvement, sensitivity and depth.

Photo: Robert Recker

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