3 September 2010

WAZ, Review by Tom Thelen

Amir Katz is a Marathon Man.

At the Museum: Pianist Played All 21 Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin

Amir Katz is a marathon man. In the utterly sold-out foyer of the museum with almost 200 listeners, the pianist played all 21 nocturnes of Frederic Chopin. The occasion for the concert from the Thürmer Series was the 200th birthday of the composer. Katz had already demonstrated a sense of stamina last year when a double CD with the Songs without Words of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy appeared.

On this evening’s program were those nineteen nocturnes which Chopin had authorized during his lifetime; the musician, born in 1973 in Israel, saved up the other two posthumously published nocturnes as encores. Katz plays Chopin such that André Gide would have been satisfied with him. In strong words in his “Notes on Chopin,” Gide attacked virtuosity in dealing with the composer; the virtuoso, he wrote, is stupid and conceited. He misunderstands Chopin in several regards, for “Chopin alludes, supposes, flatters, seduces, persuades; almost never does he assert.” And it was to this ideal that the performance of the young classical star conformed this evening. With technical perfection he mastered the crags of that first composition in B-flat minor which separates a good piano player from a very good one. Breathlessly and silently, the listeners harkened unto his performance in the hall which, this time, had been plunged into darkness in accordance with the title. From his study of Bach and bel canto, the composer crystallized these nocturnes: a masterful continuation and implementation of a genre understood up until that point as unimportant.

In a less prudent execution these piano pieces occasionally drift into kitsch, whence the saying of Camille Bourniquel that the nocturnes are responsible for the “singular handicap of a lachrymose posthumous reputation.” Yet Amir Katz places the melancholy sparkle less at the fore than that meditative, darker, and nocturnal content of this pure music. Grand applause in the museum gave thanks to a pianist from whom we have certainly not heard the last word.

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