Janina Fialkowska’s recital was a spectacular example of how one individual can captivate and move an audience. Selecting a program filled with well-loved works from Austrian, German, French and Polish masters is not recommended for any but those who long ago abandoned the designation “pianist” in favour of musician.
Happily, Fialkowska demonstrated her innate understanding and insight at nearly every turn, leaving the large crowd completely satisfied.
Would that every concert come close to this level of artistry.
The first half was a marvel of tone, touch and balance. Now that Alfred Brendel has retired and Paul Badura-Skoda’s finest performances are largely behind him (cross-references below), it’s encouraging to say that Mozart has yet another able champion for his divine Fantasy. With operatic structures swirling in the composer’s ever-creative mind, it’s little wonder this work is infused with high drama. Fialkowska dug deep and revealed much; the architecture was presented in a riveting manner that readily merged the “movements” into a cohesive whole. Also drawing a wide spectrum of colour from her instrument raised the curtain on an evening of excellence that should set the standard for Music Niagara performances to come.
The self-described “sorbet” (curiously echoing the opening night comments from Peter Tiefenbach about his latest composition, cross-reference below) was a gem to savour. The “Twinkle” variations were delivered in a compellingly innocent fashion, breathing easily in their chameleon-like skins, featuring superlative contrapuntal conversations and breathtaking passagework that belied their creation as études for his predominantly female pupils.
Schumann’s engaging Faschingsshwank aus Wien captured and maintained interest with its ideally festive “Allegro,” marvellously controlled legato (“Romance”), jaunty “Scherzino,” melody-rich “Intermezzo” and a “Finale” that was a model of ebb and flow as well as unerring cross-hand technique. The coda’s extreme registers and tinges of melodrama provided a sensational finish to this festival-charged work.
The aural palette changed considerably after the interval. Ravel’s “little” (in duration only, every bar speaks volumes that many larger sonatas can only envy) Sonatine became a showcase for Fialkowska’s magically delicate touch and ability to find the perfect tempo to suit the music, the acoustics and relationship of the parts to the whole. Unforgettable was the “Mouvement de menuet” where Ravel’s homage to the past was brought lovingly into the twenty-first century.
A quartet of offerings from Chopin concluded the program. The deeply felt angst of “too many notes” in the F-sharp Minor Prelude was purposely and wonderfully offset by the melodic bliss of Op. 28, No. 17. The opening B Major Nocturne became a personal examination of cause and introspective effect, while the closing Scherzo brilliantly rang its stratospheric top even as the arpeggiated middle ground was dank with atmosphere. Incredibly, with just minutes left, a nearby patron spent one of those wrestling a lozenge out of its reluctant cellophane wrapper; closer still, a music aficionado offered noisy bits of wisdom to his companion, but only during the tender moments (easier for her to hear his colour commentary); fortunately a wayward cellphone’s cry just before intermission was sent to decibel oblivion thanks to Schumann’s mighty weight. Why do such people attend?
Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song was the welcome extra guest. Any sense that the sheer scope of the preceding music might have been responsible for the few misfires that blushed their way into the cascading lines vanished as the piano and its exceptional practitioner showered the room with surety and art. Merci mille fois! JWR