By Lawrence Budmen

Jeffrey Biegel is the all American pianist. A graduate of New York’s Julliard School, Biegel studied with legendary pedagogue Adele Marcus (herself a pupil of another legend – pianist and composer Artur Schnabel). Biegel has made a specialty of playing and commissioning works by American composers. Miami’s own Ellen Taffee Zwilich, Charles Strouse, and Lowell Lieberman are among the composers he has championed. At his recital for Sunday Afternoons of Music on November 20 at UM Gusman Concert Hall, Biegel was most persuasive in pure Americana – the music of George Gershwin

The first part of his recital was less consistent. After a striking opening, Beethoven’s Sonata in C Major, Opus 53 (Waldstein) was a strangely tame affair. The final Rondo and Variations found all the notes duly accounted for, but Biegel’s playing was coolly efficient rather than inspired. Where was the tonal color and rhythmic freedom that can make this music come alive? 

The pianist was far more at home in the lyrical serenity of Brahms’s Intermezzo in E Major, Opus 116, No.4.Chopin’s Scherzo No.3 in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 20 was more demonic than elegant. Even in his most somber and intense modes, Chopin’s music should be aristocratic. Biegel’s version had more surface excitement than depth. 

Haydn’s Andante con Variazioni in F Minor opened the concert’s second half on a more classically elevated note. Biegel gave a polished, characterful performance of this early piano score.

The restored 1924 original manuscript version of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was the real musical treat of the afternoon. Here Biegel was on home ground. Gershwin’s original version is considerably more virtuosic, difficult, and taxing than the familiar published edition. (Gershwin’s formidable reputation as a pianist is confirmed by this original score. Anyone who can play this piece had to be terrific.) Biegel was simply grand. His bravura technique really shined. This was vintage Gershwin. Biegel captured the ragtime and blues elements idiomatically without exaggeration. The big theme was rhapsodic without sounding like Tchaikovsky – a common fault with many pianists. Biegel really made one appreciate Gershwin’s genius anew. 

An appreciative standing ovation brought encores. By now Biegel was in top form. Schumann’s Traumerei overflowed with gentle lyricism. A fiery performance of Chopin’s polonaise in A-flat concluded the afternoon on an emphatic note. This concert proved again that Jeffrey Biegel is tops at Americana. 

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