Janina Fialkowska by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, October 23, Jane Mallett Theatre. Sponsored by Music Toronto.

Fialkowska’s playing is pure song: no showy hand, head or face jive: what you get is the music. Her account of short works by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Chopin was lucid, and in every part of the flow, you get a sense of her grasp of the whole.

Schubert’s “Piano Sonata in G, D. 894”(1826) is built of highly contrasted materials: lovely high register melodies that Fialkowska plays as if on a silver whistle, and dense chord textures that crash in the dark end of the register, ominously sustained by pedal, like the long reverberations of thunder.

One is tempted take this contrast of moods into a reflection on this period of Schubert’s life, when he was frustrated in his every attempt to get his work performed publicly in concert or opera hall because, as one publisher wrote him,” the public does not yet sufficiently and generally understand the peculiar… and somewhat curious procedures of your mind’s creations.” Schubert, already feeling the disease that would kill him in two more years, took this pronouncement of doom lightly. As he wrote to a friend, “I have no money at all, and altogether, things go very badly with me. I do not fret about it, and am cheerful.”

Accordingly, under the deftness of Fialkowska’s touch, the light musical line is drawn out against the louder, darker accompaniment, like the flight of a butterfly following a mountain brook through a primeval forest. A flavour of Ragtime, a musical style that also wears trouble lightly, seems to appear in the second theme of the first movement. Surprise here is tempered by the fact that Scott Joplin lifted much of his harmonic vocabulary from Schubert.

Mendelssohn’s” Four Songs Without Words”(1833), are thematically light and in a popular vein. Fialkowska’s fluid and sensitive playing brings out highly wrought drama in these songs. “Op. 38. No. 6”, written shortly before his marriage and subtitled “Duet”, has a low and midrange mellow melody working with a rolling accompaniment that is rhythmically interesting. “Op.67. No. 4 (Spinnerlied)” is a terrifically musical mimesis of what sounds like the flight of a bumblebee, but is intended to refer to the action of a spinning wheel.

Fialkowska’s devotion to Chopin is legend. Chopin’s music is passion and drama recollected in tranquility. Fialkowska’s engrossing rendition of the “Scherzo No. 1. In B Minor, Op.20.” in particular, makes vivid the alternation of dramatic and lyrical ideas, and turbulence of passion. Her keyboard runs have the sense of lovers in flight, pursued by great forces, separated from each other, seeking refuge, together. The melody of “As Time Goes By” and the film “Casablanca” come to mind, as parts of the popular modern legacy of Chopin, his life and his music, the music of great lovers caught up in great events.

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