Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review - An Act Of Courage: Kemal Gekic at the Winspear

From Sound and Noise - University of Alberta Students on Music

Kemal Gekic is the kind of musician who would cause riots in a less polite culture than ours. From the moment his fingers touch the keys, the audience is on edge: his fortes are bolder than any other pianist, his pianos more tender. The way he plays light, quick sections is incredible – each note distinct, each phrase communicative, and yet it is a head-spinning whirl.

His specialty is Liszt, which speaks for itself. Only the most virtuosic performers would even attempt a piece like Liszt’s transcription of Berlioz‘s Symphonie Fantastique - “the Witches’ Sabbath” is a hellish movement to play in its original orchestral version, let alone after Liszt added his madness to the mix. Massive choral themes are condensed to octaves on the piano, so that it must be played with as much intensity and volume as a 150-piece orchestra and bellowing choir. Simultaneously, the pianist is expected to hammer out approximately ten thousand notes per second. At other moments, the pianist must cross hands at a great rate; a technique which involves playing steadily in the middle register with one hand, while the other hand leaps back and forth to play both high and low registers.

All this was done by Gekic with intense emotional involvement. They were not just techniques, but expressions of turmoil or sweetness, anguish or joy. In an in-concert interview with conductor Bill Eddins, Gekic claimed that courage is what a pianist needs most to play Liszt. One needs quite a bit of courage just to listen to it.

Another of the selections was a rarely-played Liszt transcription of Beethoven’s “Ruins of Athens”. Despite the distraction of a piano which was unfortunately out of tune – through no fault of Gekic – the composition was fascinating. Both Liszt and Beethoven have unique styles, and somehow Liszt managed to incorporate themes that are distinct to each. At times there is no question where the transcription came from, during one of Beethoven’s sweeping melodies or ground-breaking chord progressions. At other times, Liszt’s wild form of Impressionism breaks through in all its untamed glory, swallowing up Beethoven’s more traditional method.

The two composers are not without similarity; they are known for making some of the same controversial choices, such as the use of triangle, which up until Beethoven’s Eroica in 1803 was associated entirely as a Turkish march instrument. On Saturday night’s program, a very similar theme appeared in both “the Ruins of Athens” and Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. A pastoral section midway through each piece involved a pair of duets between triangle, piano and flute. In “the Ruins”, Gekic played a light, almost trilling theme at the very top of the keyboard – all the while, sending little smiles to the audience, as though to invite them into a private joke. The flute chimed in to provide a very sweet countermelody. The second time around – Beethoven must have known that once would not be enough – the piano took over the countermelody, while the triangle pinged its agreement. In Liszt’s concerto, almost the same theme occurred, with the piano an triangle trilling along to the flute theme.

The intimacy of Friday’s sell-out concert at the Winspear made it feel rather like a chamber recital. Kemal Gekic might have been playing simply for his own pleasure, and when the 1600 people in the audience happened upon him, he was pleased for the rest of us to enjoy as well. After his fourth visit to Edmonton in a decade, there is no doubt that we do enjoy him very much.


No comments:

Post a Comment