It takes courage to assemble a concert programme for a Sunday morning exclusively made up of “Nocturnes”, that is, “night pieces”, but the gamble paid off.
When Amir Katz, 2003 winner of the Schubert Competition in Dortmund, plays the entire cycle of Chopin’s 21 Nocturnes as an homage to the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, there is nothing uniform or soporific about it, on the contrary: it is a diverse and enthralling performance.
With the Israeli-born pianist, a German resident since the completion of his studies, the Konzertgesellschaft (Concert Society), in collaboration with the Bürgerstiftung Rohrmeisterei (Rohrmeisterei Citizens’ Foundation), succeeded in engaging for Schwerte the services of a sought-after maven of the romantic piano, one who made musical stars sparkle in the broad daylight of morning.
Mr. Katz, seated in a pool of light in the otherwise dark, well-filled Hall III of the Rohrmeisterei, began his interpretation of Chopin on the Bösendorfer, its impressive mechanics reflected in its ebony-lacquered spotlighted lid, with at first restrained intensity – it was the attunement and invitation to his numerous listeners to give themselves over to the voluptuous pull of these Nocturnes.
Chopin conceived in these Nocturnes reveries, vignettes in typical romantic, formal freedom, portraying the most diverse states of mind. He himself spoke of “playing freely under the stars”, and Mr. Katz was in a position to convey to his audience the joy in such playing with the virtuoso ease and clarity that mark his abilities as a pianist.
The artist presented all the Nocturnes in chronological order of their genesis. But what differentations he imbued the individual pieces with – e.g. in Numbers 2 and 3, both indeed composed in a dance-like 3/4 time, but interpreted very differently by Mr. Katz in their atmosphere, sometimes soothingly swaying, sometimes dancingly fleet-footed.
His creative power shows itself to be very considered in rather restrained means: delicate melody lines in the right hand with very sparing application of light shifts in tempo, minimal use of pedals, sparklingly clear arabesque-like melodic variations, dispensing with romantic haziness, easily conceivable with Chopin.
Enchanting were the beginnings and conclusions: Katz musically materialised dreams for a short time, capturing them floating in the air, shaping them and dismissing them again, slowly fading, into the abeyance of their unfathomable endlessness. But he also interpreted the much more expressionistically composed middle section of the Nocturnes with great intensity, whether in suddenly flaring flashes (e.g. No. 4) or in almost choral Meditations (No. 6 or No. 11). The closed eyes of some of the listeners showed how they themselves allowed their thoughts to wander.
So it was entirely fitting that, following the final two posthumously published Nocturnes, Amir Katz sent his listeners into the quite genuine brightness of the Sunday with a fast-paced and fast-played Etude (op.10/1 in C major) as encore. Daydreams for the wide awake listener!