Thundering octaves, fleet fingerwork and beautiful playing in lyrical passages.

Several excellent pianists have played in Durban in recent weeks, and the latest is well up to the standard set by the others. He is Libor Novacek, a 34-year-old Czech who is building a big reputation in many parts of the world and is on his fourth visit to South Africa.

In a recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre he demonstrated great virtuosity and a bold interpretative view of the music he was playing. He began with Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3, a splendid early (1796) work by the master.

Like all professional pianists these days, Novacek has an impeccable technique, and he used this to express an exceptionally dynamic and full-blooded performance of the music. It was a most enjoyable account of a familiar work, and the audience rewarded him with prolonged applause.

The late piano works of Brahms are perhaps not played as often as they should be, and the seven Fantasias of his Op.116 made a welcome appearance on the programme. The three fast items in the set are labelled Capriccio and the four quieter numbers Intermezzo. The Intermezzi include two of the most beautiful pieces in the entire piano repertory.

Libor Novacek then played two pieces by his Czech compatriot Leos Janacek (1854-1928) from a set rather quaintly named On an Overgrown Path. The music seemed to have its roots in folk music; it was distinctive and pleasantly ruminative.

Novacek is a specialist in the music of Franz Liszt, and he completed his programme with Liszt’s massive Sonata in B minor, written in 1853. Novacek extracted full value from it, with thundering octaves, fleet fingerwork and some beautiful playing in the lyrical passages.

by Michael Green

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