Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Mixed Bag from Inna Faliks at RHUMC

Inna Faliks.


Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

Building a program is a tricky thing. A grouping of works which, merely listed, seems just to be a heterogeneous mixture, may prove in performance to have a mutually illuminating coherence that makes for a satisfying whole. On the other hand, a collection of pieces can turn out to be just that and nothing more, and I regret to say that was how the four (five including the encore) items played by Ukrainian pianist Inna Faliks at the June “Second Sundays” recital, taken together, seemed to me. 

Rodion Shchedrin.
But that’s not to say there wasn’t some striking music-making in the individual works. The very opening was so explosive that it must have given some audience-members a bit of a shock. Rodion Shchedrin (b.1932) is now a doyen of Russian composers, but when he wrote his Six Pieces for Solo Piano he was very much an up-and-coming young man in Soviet music, as may be gleaned from a video clip of him playing the last of them, the Basso Ostinato, which dates from 1961. If anything, Ms. Faliks’ performance of the piece was even more ferocious and torrential than the composer’s, and firmly established her virtuoso credentials. 

From this Modernist if rather mechanistic squib it was quite a jump back to late Beethoven, though the Six Bagatelles Op.126 (his last work for solo piano, dating from 1824) are, despite the seemingly throwaway title, as timeless and many-sided as any of the larger and more celebrated works of his last years. Such evidence as there is indicates that Beethoven viewed the set as being of some significance in his output, and a unified work; this was certainly how Ms. Faliks played them, with barely a pause between each and a full clutch of repeats observed – as far as I could tell without a score to hand. Overall her playing had an engagingly impulsive and improvisatory character, skillfully observing Beethoven’s turn-on-a-dime contrasts of pace and mood within each piece. 

Beethoven nears the end: drawing by Oswald Charles Barret
(1892-1945) from The Oxford Companion to music, 1938.

One of the pleasures of regularly attending the South Bay’s cornucopia of chamber recitals is that, alongside discovering previously unknown pieces, like the Shchedrin, one gets to hear different interpretations of more familiar works. Both Mozart’s Fantasia No. 3 in D minor, K. 397/385g and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat major Op. 61 had turned up in the hands of other pianists, as reviewed here and here, not so long ago, and it was interesting to hear Ms. Faliks’ take on them.

Mozart’s Fantasia is a strange creation: for well over half of its scant six minutes or so, it alternates between somber reflection, sudden agitation, even despair… and then sideslips into an almost “only kidding, folks!” cheeriness just for the last minute-and-a-half, or thereabouts. What to make of it? Ms. Faliks went full-tilt tragic for the main body of the piece, and then almost (but for me not quite) managed to avoid a fractured effect by playing that end section of it quite slowly and wistfully.

Chopin's late (1846) Polonaise-Fantaisie is one of his most complex and elaborately discursive works, and Ms. Faliks determinedly avoided getting becalmed or any sense of woolgathering by a straight-arrow approach, but which however, through a certain absence of dynamic light and shade, seemed to convey some lack of emotional involvement.

Finally came an encore which demonstrated that, if the Shchedrin had shown her left hand to be iron-fingered in its relentless hammering of bass octaves, then the fingers of her right to be positively diamond-tipped in their delineation of the bell effects that characterize the third of Liszt’s Grandes Études de Paganini, the one appropriately entitled “La campanella”. This was a virtuoso display indeed, if perhaps sounding a bit more like a school summons to attention or a tocsin than atmospheric ecclesiastical tinklings. 


Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 2pm, Sunday, June 10, 2017. Photos: Inna Faliks: Performer website; Rodion Shchedrin: Courtesy International Maya Plisetskatya Rodion Shchedrin Foundation; Beethoven: Courtesy Alexandre Piacsek.

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