MIAMI INTERNATIONAL PIANO FESTIVAL
KONSTANTIN LIFSCHITZ/ KIT ARMSTRONG/ SIJING YE/
KEMAL GEKIC/ WILLIAM NOLL (3-30, 3-31, 4-1-08)
MASTER SERIES DAZZLES WITH KEYBOARD VIRTUOSITY,
By Lawrence Budmen
The Miami International Piano Festivalís Master Series opened Sunday at the Broward Centerís Amaturo Theater with a unique event. In marathon afternoon and evening sessions, Russian born Konstantin Lifschitz traversed all 48 preludes and fugues that comprise Books I and II of Johann Sebastian Bachís Well Tempered Clavier.
Playing for nearly five hours without a score, Lifschitz offered an awesome pianistic display of Baroque musical architecture on the most exalted level. Here was great artistry and probing intellect wedded to Bachís remarkable exploration of every major and minor key in the Western classical music canon.
Lifschitz has long been identified with the music of Bach. (He recorded the Goldberg Variations when he was only 16 years old.) His limpid, elegant performances of this repertoire were imbued with strong artistic personality. Slow sections were often dreamy, played in a soft, beguiling pianissimo. Fast movements became rapidly articulated bravura displays.
Yet Lifschitz displayed an incredible sense of musical line and structure. Fugal melodic lines were always clearly delineated. Contrapuntal textures that are often murky or obscured emerged with lithe clarity.
The pianistís springy rhythms could dance off the keyboard, even in Bachís most complex figurations. His sense of tonal coloration and textural richness was a constant source of delight. Familiar melodies were reinvented, freshly scrubbed and allowed to glisten under Lifschitzís pearly tone and cyclorama of iridescent hues.
Lifschitzís command of the instrument is beyond technique. His incisive articulation of the complex writing for left hand and attention to inner voicings paid musical dividends through artistry of the highest order.
On Monday 16 year old piano prodigy Kit Armstrong had a hard act to follow but offered some remarkable playing nonetheless. A student at Londonís Royal College of Music, Armstrong counts Alfred Brendel among his teachers.
Opening with an agile, light and lively reading of Bachís Italian Concerto, Armstrong exquisitely sculpted the divine melody of the Andante and brought sprightly energy to the final Presto.
His Mozart was less impressive, rather cool and overly deliberate. Armstrong exuded power and vivid instrumental color in a splendidly characterful reading of Beethovenís Six Variations on an Original Theme.
The pianistís own Reflections seemed crafted from a theory textbook but he offered a plethora of tonal colors and sensitive swaths of impressionistic light in Debussyís Estampes and Pagodes.
Armstrongís Chopin resounded with the grand line of lyrical expressivity. The Ballade No.4 was dark, romantic, impassioned Ė the essence of this composerís tempestuous scores.
Dizzying pianistic flights abounded at the concluding Concerto Night on Tuesday.
The Miami International Piano Festival Orchestra offered solid, expertly tailored support under the astute baton of William Noll.
From the imposing opening chords to the dazzling tarantella conclusion, 15 year old Sijing Ye commanded Saint-Saensí Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor. Her light as a feather articulation of the Allegro scherzando danced elegantly while the rapid fire fest of the finale dazzled with sheer speed and accuracy. Currently a student at Julliardí s pre-college division, this dynamic young pianist is a talent to watch.
Brahmsí monumental Concerto No.1 in D minor has defeated more than one soloist. But Croatian born Kemal Gekic offered a deeply personal interpretation that rang with the incendiary spirit of the composerís youthful impetuosity.
With Noll providing insightful leadership, the eloquent diaologue of the first movement was lovingly shaped. For all his fleet fingers and head long power, Gekic waxed lyrical in the noble Adagio, sustaining the long limbed line amidst the softest of tones.
Gekic played the final Rondo faster than any other pianist in memory; his hands cascading across the keyboard in a visual blur. With stunning arpeggios delivered with deft clarity, Gekic spiced his powerhouse rendition with a vivid touch of Hungarian paprika and Brahmsian languor.
Lawrence Budmen was a member of the board of directors of Patrons of Exceptional Artists, the festivalís parent organization, from 2003-2005.