Nick van Bloss offered memorable performances of works by Mozart and Bach at his Miami International Piano Festival debut Friday night. While the British pianist’s battle with Tourette’s Syndrome has received much attention and remains a compelling human interest story, van Bloss’ refined artistry and artistic discernment mark him as a pianist of rare gifts.
Playing before an especially quiet and attentive audience at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach, van Bloss chose intellectually challenging scores rather than flashy showpieces. He brought admirable restraint to Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor, K. 396. Dynamics were nicely varied without undue extremes of soft and loud. Van Bloss’ sense of Classical style was impeccable. The music was firmly stamped as Mozart rather than more impetuous Beethoven, and he projected the score’s gravitas without succumbing to heavyhandedness.
Without pause van Bloss attacked the opening of Mozart’s Sonata in C minor, K. 457, at a fast clip, but his articulation was admirably clean. He injected a touch of impish wit into the secondary subject and accomplished the hand crossings seamlessly despite the brisk pace. A gradual buildup of power and momentum culminated in the flurry of eighth notes during the first movement’s coda, pinpointed with fine clarity.
The principal melody of the Adagio flowed with an almost vocal sense of musical line and lightness of touch. There was ample energy in the stormy passages of the final movement. The inner voices emerged clearly and the coda surged in a final display of virtuosity.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations was originally composed for the harpsichord, and this aria and 30 variations pose myriad technical and interpretive challenges for artists adapting the work to the modern piano. Van Bloss’ approach was to play the initial statement of the aria and the early sections in a subdued manner, attempting to reproduce some likeness of the harpsichord’s registrations. Gradually he increased the instrument’s sonority and power, the later variations strongly pianistic in a more contemporary fashion.
Van Bloss brought varied color and tone to Bach’s repeats. Unlike Simone Dinnerstein’s sometimes disjointed performance last season in Miami, van Bloss’ account was wonderfully even and proportioned. Choices of tempo and emphasis between movements were astutely judged, the entire score registering a sense of inevitability.
The dancelike pulse of Variation I seemed to almost leap off the keyboard . Every third variation is a canon, and here van Bloss brought out the contrapuntal lines with particular transparency. His trills and ornaments were beautifully etched and every note was strongly audible. The pianist conveyed the remarkably modern harmonies of the “Black Pearl” variation (No. 25) emphatically but the melodic line remained unimpeded and he produced the most beautiful pianissimo of the evening. The final Quodibet and the repeat of the opening aria were unaffected and direct, the conclusion of a vast musical journey assayed with imagination and depth of feeling.