Amir Katz is an interesting Chopin player. He is a sensitive and mature artist. His reflections on each of the nocturnes always are thoughtful. He has an elegant sense of touch and voices his chords warmly.
Noël Coward claimed that his instructions for actors were to speak their lines and not to bump into the furniture. Katz is the same type of pianist; every gesture is completely thought-out and blends in with the whole. His Chopin is highly rhapsodic, with a strong storytelling element. As I listened to his recording repeatedly, specific images for each of the nocturnes kept entering my mind. One of my English literature professors, Walter Jackson Bate, said that poetry criticism was like taking out the dental tools; music criticism can be like that, too, a tale of faster or slower, louder or softer. Katz’s recording demands a more subjective approach, so dense with meaning are his interpretations. Some pianists have a generic approach to every nocturne, a kind of one-size-fits-all take on the genre. It’s as if Chopin had designed a pianistic product line with the brand name Nocturne. Katz will have none of that. His nocturnes are each imbued with their own iconography and feeling.
The First Nocturne has a vibrant tempo that presents the picture of a summer romance. No. 2 is pensive, even philosophical. A questioning tone appears in No. 3, with a restless undercurrent. Solitude is the feeling of No. 4, its B section agitated. In 5, we intuit a plaintive quality, like the vulnerability of the lover. No. 6 paints a domestic scene, ending with uncertainty in the B section. No. 7 has hints of smoldering emotion in the bass, leading to a momentary outburst. The melody of No. 8 floats above the accompaniment like a dream. No. 9 gives an expression of shyness or perhaps reserve. No. 10, as befits a selection used in Les Sylphides, suggests a Degas painting of ballerinas. No. 11 is imbued with the pain of loneliness. No. 12 offers the sounds of gentle laughter and warm friendship. The bass line of No. 13 recalls the funeral march of the Second Sonata. No. 14 is an expression of tenderness, plus physical longing. The melody of No. 15 sounds halting and quizzical, with unsteadiness in the B section. No. 16 portrays a dizzying aspect of romance. In No. 17, we are drawn into a romantic interlude with the shadow of a tragedy. No. 18, as befits a late work, is chock-full of world weariness. The three posthumous nocturnes share a single interpretive stance; they are dark and brooding, even gloomy, with a vivid sense of atmosphere.
In place of program notes about the music, there is a revealing interview with the artist. Katz has significant things to say about the nocturnes. These pieces are among the most revealing tests of a pianist’s sense of style and search for meaning. Katz demonstrates here that he is a pianist to reckon with. If, like myself, you find the nocturnes endlessly fascinating, taking a journey with Katz could be worthwhile.