This latest project from pianist Inna Faliks (cross-reference below) is one that—with the cooperation of her current composer friends—reimagines Beethoven’s Op. 126 Bagatelles in the present day. After which, here’s also some Ravel for dessert.
Peter Golub leads off with a dreamy, thoughtful—at times purposely a tad unsure—setting of No. 1. Faliks has the fine, delicate touch to deliver all, notably the welcome triplets, even as the lines become more rhapsodic. Followed by the original (as all bagatelles are), her rendering is calmer by half alongside quietly understated dryness.
It falls to Tamir Hendelman to create a forceful/hesitant—at times jazzy—take on No. 2, beautifully voiced by Faliks, whether its moody moments or high drama, the original being a study of contrasts, presented with near-flawless execution.
No. 3, in many ways the highlight of the “new” set, comes from the creativity of Richard Danielpour (cross-reference below). It features gently laid out lines, filled with compelling legato and a few “bluish” moments before finding consonance. Faliks “pre-replies” with a lovingly rendered cantabile, pedals redux and a fond farewell.
Ian Krouse’s “Ad fugam” is next, infused with much drama, Contrast ‘R’ Us and contrapuntal fun, only suffering from, perhaps, one too many visits to port. Faliks’ No. 4 “reply” is always loving—looking forward and offers lovely moments of pastorale.
“Sweet Nothings” from Mark Carlson is an appropriate play on the meaning of “bagatelles”. Its dreaminess, “Where are we?” undertone and hints of “Oh when the saints”—not unlike the urtext—along with a few Debussy-like colourings give it broad appeal. Faliks balances this with a matter-of-fact No.5, replete with second section leading tones that must be followed.
David Lefkowitz concludes the 21st century set with an adventurous study of well-painted texture, pedals and tone, while Faliks is a marvel brushing it all onto canvas, then concludes the master’s last solo piano opus with panache, allowing the hints of Brahms-to-come to ring loud and true.
Next comes 21st-century reimaginings of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit—itself a virtuosic and emotional tour de force based on three prose poems from Aloysius Bertrand posthumously published collection.
Variations on a Spell: I. “Water Sprite” II. “Bell Tolls – Golden Bees” (after “Ondine,” M.55)
Composer Paola Prestini has opted to imbue her contribution with more of the original’s moods than its technical bravura. The opening Spell (certainly as in spellbound), floats into the ear with a purposely “hesitato” flow. Faliks unfolds/reveals all of the lines and colours with deceptive ease, ringing the “top” as required to memorable effect.
Spell 2 lives up to its subtitles with a near-relentless tolling and introspective brooding, heightened by painful dissonances and extreme registers. Finally, some busyness takes wing, offering welcome contrast before, inevitably, the darkness returns and vanishes without a trace. Composer and performer are, compellingly, of like minds.
“Old Ground” (after “Le gibet,” M. 55)
It is the bell that tolls from the walls of a city, under the horizon, and the corpse of the hanged one that is reddened by the setting sun.
With the very first two utterances (a clarion toll; searing cluster), composer Timo Andres deftly foreshadows the wide-ranging journey ahead. Soon there are waves of Glass-like [is Glass a name? If not, no cap needed.] minimalism whose repetitive, gradually developing undercurrents and frequently repeated-note melodies—in Faliks’ hands, mesmerizing and hypnotic. Midway, power is unleashed, not always consonant like the subject matter itself. A gasp/breath (depending on your processing of the soundscape thus far) seems entirely welcome. The motion resumes, before taking the opposite approach in a reverent, chorale-like homage to the haunting image of the deceased. It’s an incredible achievement and deserves repeated hearings.
“Pursuit” (after “Scarbo,” M. 55)
The disc concludes with Billy Childs’ inventive take of a goblin in hot pursuit. In many ways, it’s the most technically challenging of the lot and Ravel would certainly admire the technical wizardry needed to do it justice. Faliks tosses everything off with aplomb, readily switching gears for the dreamy middle section. Once again, the power grows—fuelled at times by dotted rhythms and weight reminiscent of Prokovfiev when of the same mind. Inevitably, the chase resumes, then is interrupted by a calming coda, only to add a final rush before scurrying up to the heavens. JWR