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Split Piano-ality

New York
BargeMusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn
06/30/2011 -  
Franz Schubert: Sonata in A minor, D. 784, Opus 143 – Death and the Maiden, D. 531 (transcription by Liszt)
Franz Liszt: Transcendental Etudes: No. 11 in D flat “Harmonies du soir” & No. 10 in F minor
Lev Ljova: Sirota (New York City premiere)
Morton Feldman: Music for Philip Guston
Sofia Gubaidulina: Chaconne
Rodion Shchedrin: Basso Ostinato

Inna Faliks (Pianist)

I. Faliks (© Coco T. Dawg)

Two different pianists–both Ukrainian-American, both named Inna Faliks–played last night at BargeMusic. They even physically could have been twins. Which is why one felt confusion that they played so differently.

For the first half of the recital, Inna Faliks played Liszt and Schubert with results that could charitably be called underwhelming. The mournful concept of Schubert’s A minor Sonata could have been acceptable, but none of the different tempi seemed to meld. The introduction was not taken slowly, but lugubriously. The lyrical second movement had a harsh edge, an almost awkward rhythm, while the finale, while played with near perfect velocity, seemed forced, in a performance that we have heard amateurs play.

Ms. Faliks is hardly an amateur, and she has played with some of the world’s better symphony orchestras, while winning her share of awards. But something was wrong. After the sonata, she segued into Liszt by playing his transcription of Death and the Maiden, a demonic offering of lyric Grand Guignol. Alas, it lacked either the lyric or the horror. Those rolling bass notes were rightly ominous, the phrasing was correct, but the result was a “Salon-Music and the Maiden.”

Ms. Faliks played through a pair of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, but there was something automatic about it. Liszt really shouldn’t have daunted her, since she played a stunning “Campanella” etude at the end of the concert. But that was an encore, and Ms. Faliks had lost the tension of her beginning works.

I was happy to have stayed for the last four works, all contemporary, all new to me, and all apparently played with real communication.

Her performance from a section of Morton Feldman’s four-hour Music for Philip Guston was splendid. Perhaps I can sit through the entire work, since the colors must be shimmering (piano, alto flute, celesta, vibraphone, glockenspiel etc). But this short piano work has the most ravishing harmonies, the chords unfolding like a Bokhara carpet being unfolded v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, each set of colors, each warp and woof different.

L. Ljova (© Coco T. Dawg)

Without a break, she went into another work, Lev Ljova’s Sirota (Orphan), written for the pianist and given its New York performance. What Mr. Feldman had done with harmonies,, the Moscow-born Mr. Ljuva did with variations in the left hand against a skipping syncopated obsessional melody at the top.

But then we had a surprise. To honor Ms. Faliks’ birthplace, Odessa, we heard the voice of a rabbi singing a section of the Rosh Hashona (Jewish New Year) service. Recorded in 1908. It could have been a jolting experience, but Mr. Ljuva, I felt, made little of it. The pianist simply accompanied, filled in the voice with some diatonic, conservatively harmonized piano, before returning to a variation of the other melody.

The last two work were both Russian, and both obsessional. In fact, the Chaconne and the Basso Ostinato are three words for basically the same thing.

But what a difference. Solfia Gubaidulina’s Chaconne was based upon her idol/icon, J. S. Bach. It was powerful, complex, reverential (and often witty), a work of Baroque grandeur by a grand composer who could live in any era.

Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato was a very different obsession. Shchedrin’s wit in all of his works is insatiable. One could compare him to Khachaturian, I suppose, but he is far more complex, more daring, more ironic, more mordant.

Ms. Faliks obviously feels deeply about both composers, for she played them with fluency, devotion and feeling.

Harry Rolnick



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