KIT ARMSTRONG (11-28-05)

By Lawrence Budmen 

On November 28 the Miami International Piano Festival presented a phenomenal concert by Kit Armstrong – part of the Festival’s Prodigies and Masters of Tomorrow series. Prodigy is not an apt description of this thirteen year old pianist-composer. Armstrong is a true artist in the most elevated sense of the term. 

Armstrong’s technical fluency at the keyboard could well be the envy of many power pounding competition winners. Unlike those short lived, shooting pianistic stars, Armstrong really makes music rather than playing clusters of mere notes. His command of dynamics, tonal color, and musical structure are amazing! 

From the opening chords of J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F-Sharp Minor from Book II of the Well Tempered Clavier, Armstrong’s beguiling tone was magical. He played Bach with the rigorous structural precision of an old master.

Armstrong’s sparkling; light up the sky performance of Mozart’s Sonata in D Major was the stuff of which legends are made. His delicately etched phrasing in the Andante had a depth of feeling and generosity of expression that brought forth the dramatic subtext beneath Mozart’s elegant roulades. In the concluding Theme and Variations Armstrong’s masterful command of the score’s light and shadow created a veritable fountain of flowing tonal hues and gradations – truly aristocratic Mozart playing. 

Three of Debussy’s Images were no less revelatory. Armstrong’s deeply engrossing, idiomatic traversal of Rondeau a Rameau was almost trance-like. He captured the perfect combination of Impressionism and the formal elegance of the French Baroque. The keyboard was literally awash in subtle coloration. Armstrong delineated the austere patina of Mouvement with sensitivity and artistic aplomb. 

Beethoven’s mighty Sonata No.30 in F Major, Op. 109 was the recital’s piece de resistance. After an electric reading of the Prestissimo, Armstrong cut deep into the heavenly vision of the Andante and Variations. Here was playing of serene contemplation and spiritual nobility. The music seemed to hang in the air with timeless eloquence. Beethoven’s fierce hand crossings held no terrors for this accomplished musician. 

Throughout the concert, vivid images of the keyboard and the pianist’s hands were projected on a large screen above the piano. This brought the audience into the inner workings of Armstrong’s performances. His Chopin selections were particularly enhanced by the video monitor. Armstrong is a Chopin pianist to the manor born. In Three Mazurkas, Opus 59 and the Ballade No.3, Opus 47 his sense of rhythmic momentum, rubato, and dance like energy recalled such legendary Chopin specialists as Rubinstein and Pollini. The music really lived and breathed under Armstrong’s fingers as if he were creating it anew. 

In response to a rousing standing ovation from the audience (including many parents and young children), Armstrong offered an ethereal reading of Debussy’s Miroirs and an example of his own compositions. (He has composed much chamber music.) Armstrong’s Chicken Parade was a lively novelty – the musical meeting of Mozart and Raymond Scott – played with dizzying panache.

In an era of facile young conservatory graduates, Kit Armstrong is a revelation. He presented a boffo recital. Once again the Miami International Piano Festival presented an evening to remember! 

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