Sunday, 19 June 2011

JANINA FIALKOWSKA Piano Recital / Singapore International Piano Festival 2011 / Review

Singapore International Piano Festival
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory / Thursday (16 June 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 June 2011 with the title "Pole position on keyboard".

The theme of this year’s piano festival is Transformation, manifested on the keyboard by a play on transcriptions, variations and the metamorphoses of themes. The opening recital was given by the Canadian-Polish pianist Janina Fialkowska, whose miraculous recovery from a debilitating form of cancer to a full concert schedule held a certain resonance.

Her wonderfully varied programme however began unsteadily, with a performance of Schubert’s little Sonata in A major (Op.120) dogged by wrong notes and a memory lapse. However the way she shaped its sunny themes, filled with songlike radiance and suppleness, left little doubt of her artistry.

In the music of her fellow Poles, a sure-footed authority held sway. In Karol Szymanowski’s √Čtude in B flat minor (Op.4 No.3), once his singularly most popular hit, quietly brooding chords built up to a crashing climax. This gave way to the impressionistic flights of fancy in The Isle of Sirens (from Metopes), where her delicate and always imaginative touch were a premium.

Fialkowska’s view of Chopin (left) was no less satisfying. The Waltz in A flat major (Op.34 No.1) had lightness and scintillation, the trills of the Nocturne in B major (Op.62 No.1) lingered ever so deliciously, while sheer vehemence and violence of Scherzo No.1 in B minor (Op.20) was given loving respite by a tender Polish lullaby.

The second half’s offering of Franz Liszt (below) – original works and transcriptions – was performed without a break. Love or loathe him, Fialkowska presented his two diametrically opposing sides. There can be no more subtle or sublime work than Liszt’s Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude (The Blessing of God in Solitude), which received the dream performance. The right hand’s gentle filigree, in communion with the baritone song by the left hand, created the spiritual high of the evening.

Three of Chopin’s Polish Songs in transcription brought the listener back to more earthy reaches. Fialkowska played a less familiar version of the Schubert-Liszt Soirees de Vienne No.6, but the rhythmic pulse of the waltz was ever pervasive. The ante was upped for the vulgar Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, where she went for the jugular of the Devil. Missed notes notwithstanding, it was a thrilling ride from the first to last note.

With two delightful little encores by Chopin and Mendelssohn, the transformation from Mephistopheles to Saint Janina was complete.

The Singapore International Piano Festival was presented by Singapore Symphonia Co. Ltd.

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