Janina Fialkowska Plays Music In the Afternoon reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

April 29, Walter Hall, Toronto.

Janina Fialkowska’s strength at the keyboard is her ability to rest. When you appreciate the daring silences she allows between passages, you begin to understand how these rests enable her precisely placed tones to flow along finely modeled musical contours that express the beauty of the compositions she is interpreting for her audiences.

The Schumann portion of her recital was exciting particularly because of Fialkowska’s artistry in bringing out the highly polarized nature of the compositions. Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op.26 begins with a boisterous figure that repeats and then shades down into a restful, poetic mood. The high spirits return frequently in the opening “Allegro”, once marching in a defiant “Marseillaise”, and once, mysteriously imbued with a singing quality that unaccountably reminded me of William Bolcom’s Ragtime compositions. The brief “Romanze” that follows is tender and reflective in character, resting between slow steps that lead into a  playful “Scherzino” that floats like the dance of a butterfly. The “Intermezzo” is emotional in a plaintive way, and the “Finale” is built out of high velocity runs that are modulated on a scale that includes loneliness as well as extraverted celebration.

Schumann describes the origin of his Humoreske, Op. 20 in a letter to Clara: “All week I sat at the piano composing, writing, laughing and crying, all at the same time.” The title indicates that the piece is about the flow of moods—humours—outbursts of passion, sweetly innocent passages, lyrical turns, eccentric twists, quick rhythmic shifts of texture. Fialkowska played with the music as if it were a mouse that she felt free to hold and release, pursue and suspend, until the “poignant and triumphant coda.”

Everyone knows or ought to know Fialkowska’s Chopin. The Polonaise in C-sharp Minor, Op.26, No.1 sounds the heroic note of the Polish patriot in exile pulsing with new harmonic energies. She follows The Waltz in A-flat Minor, Op.34, No.1  through a briar-patch of moods and tempi with a sensitive and fluid ease, while also bringing out the sparkle that attracted the title “Valse Brillante”.The Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 62, No.2, poses the question “What to make of a piece that is so well-know it is ‘over-familiar’?” Answer: Listen to the even tone of Fialkowska’s walking bass line. The trilling of nerves sing in Nocturne in B Major, Op.62, No.1. A study in texture and colour, the final melody is poetic, meaning it gives us a glimpse into a world beyond the ordinary.

The first of the recital’s two Preludes, the F-sharp Minor, Op. 28, No.8 is a work that Liszt describes as being “replete with enormous difficulties”. Nonetheless, Chopin’s rolling periods are woven into what seemed like a fantastic narrative discourse. The Prelude in A-flat that followed was a calmer composition with a gorgeous melody that appeared like the vehicle for a journey through a romantic landscape into a realm where a single bass note tolls what begins to sound like the penultimate hour. The Scherzo in B-flat Minor Op. 31, No.2 is built, like the first movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata in C Major, out of a brief, quirky high-pitched figure contrasted by an extended grand theme. One notices as the dramatic complexities unfold, that Fialkowska’s playing makes it easy to hear everything that is going on in the music.

The audience would not let Fialkowska rest until she offered an encore which she announced simply as—Chopin.

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