South Florida Classical Review

by Lawrence Budmen

Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor is a repertoire staple but Inna Faliks brought a fresh approach and highly personal interpretive instincts to her performance of this masterwork with the Miami Symphony Orchestra under Eduardo Marturet Sunday night at Miami’s Arsht Center.

An associate professor of piano at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Faliks is a well traveled soloist who will hopefully schedule more stops in South Florida. On Sunday she proved to be an interesting and musically imaginative artist. From the opening bars of the Schumann concerto, Faliks bent the musical line, coloring her phrases with subtle rubato. She brought plenty of power to the keyboard-spanning runs and octaves. Her pearly tone and poetic bent suggested a more Chopinesque approach.

In the second movement Intermezzo, Faliks’ winning combination of whimsy and heart-on-sleeve fervor turned the short opening figures into a burst of pianistic song. The Allegro vivace finale was replete with bold syncopations but Faliks’ elegant and impulsive shaping of thematic lines was always cleanly articulated. Her lighter approach to the score was musically engrossing and refreshing. Marturet and the orchestra provided full bodied support with the deep tone of the cellos in the secondary subject of the Intermezzo movement particularly distinguished.

A standing ovation brought Faliks back for Liszt’s La Campanella as an encore. She deftly traced the melodic curves of the familiar theme and drew a bell-like sound from the Steinway grand.

The program opened with Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn.” Marturet balanced the wind choir astutely in the initial statement of the Saint Anthony Chorale. Throughout the performance, he strongly underlined the string lines beneath the wind and brass writing, and evoked the dark Brahmsian undertow of the lower strings.

The horns brought out the martial, celebratory mood of the sixth variation, and Marturet gave warmth and flowing grace to the lyrical flight of the Grazioso section that follows. In the final passacaglia, wind and string figurations were transparent, and the final reprise of the theme was sonorous. Marturet mixed brisk clarity with spacious weight in a finely structured reading that featured strong playing from the entire ensemble.

Following intermission, Marturet led the premiere of Questa Via, a  love song by Karen LeFrak (whose Sleepover at the Museum, a work for narrator and orchestra, will be premiered by the Miami Symphony next season). A power ballad in the vein of James Horner’s My Heart Will Go On (from the film Titanic), the song was more appropriate for a pops program, but was charming nonetheless and attractively sung by Angelina Green (a onetime contestant on America’s Got Talent) and Hansel De Muñoz. Marturet and the orchestra turned on a dime to sound like an expert studio group. When a technical glitch forced the-leather jacketed Muñoz to change microphones, Marturet repeated the song, much to the delight of the audience and LeFrak, who was in attendance and basked in the applause.

The evening- and season-ending Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor got off to a rocky start. Although the granite-like opening chords were strongly emphatic, the timpani was overly loud and prominent. In the Allegro section of the first movement, the orchestra was not always together, and there were noticeable wind and brass fluffs. Marturet’s tempo never quite settled in, veering between rapid and plodding. The big climaxes were excessively bombastic.

The performance regrouped with a glowing Andante sostenuto. Concertmaster Daniel Andai’s singing, tonal sweetness was buttressed by the silky sonority of the entire string section. The bucolic pastorale of the third movement was aided by Marturet’s finely gauged dynamic contrasts.

Dark rumblings in the strings were potently projected in the introduction to the finale. The solo horn beautifully conveyed the chorale melody, which was eloquently shaped by Marturet. Strings sounded rich in the spaciously accented principal theme, which is often compared to the “Ode to Joy” melody of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The Allegro non troppo took off with a muscular energy that the ensemble sustained right up to the coda, where the chorale theme reemerged triumphantly.

Full Review

American Record Guide

by James Harrington

This is a unique program, combining an autobiography with music linked to that story.
Ukrainian-born Faliks is the head of the piano department at UCLA and a busy concert
pianist with a long established interest in presenting programs that include poetry and
spoken word interspersed with wide-ranging piano repertoire. I attended one of those
programs in New York several years ago, and have favorably reviewed two of her records
(Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Pasternack, MSR 1333, J/F 2010; Beethoven, MSR 1446, M/A 2014).

Faliks wrote the texts, which are convincingly delivered by Rebecca Mozo. Not once did I
feel that she was telling Faliks’s story; it was Faliks telling her own story. Poignant,
humorous, and perceptive to anyone who has ever pursued music, the spoken words allow
you to get to know Faliks far beyond other pianists you may listen to. That is both the
strength and a long-term weakness in this release. After hearing the entire recording three
times, I pretty much knew the story of her life, from her earliest musical and family
memories in Odessa, through immigration to the US, her training with memorable teachers
and mentors, her early successes and the beginning of her international career. Her story
here ends with a reunion and eventual marriage to a childhood sweetheart and some
thoughts on the value of music.

The piano pieces are very well performed and extremely well selected and ordered to fit
into the autobiography. At this point though, I am ready to return to the music alone, many
times. Undoubtedly I will regularly be reminded of events and characters in her compelling
story as I listen, especially to the title work. It was Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy that her
dying piano teacher asked her to play, but she had never learned it. After he died she did,
and the performance here is as good as any I have heard. Her Gershwin is also memorable
and has as natural a feel as any pianist raised and trained in the US would have. There are
some old favorites here, like the Liszt arrangements plus a premiere recording given to her
by one of her composition teachers (Freidlin). The program is a complete picture of the
wide range of repertoire she excels at. After hearing her story and listening to her playing, I
can imagine that she is a fantastic teacher as well.

Fanfare

by Colin Clarke

Pianist Inna Faliks has released a few discs that reveal her natural sense of curiosity, so it is no surprise that what we have here is something very much away from the norm. The Story of a Pianist is Faliks’s story, originally intended as the subject of a book and now the material for a recital-monologue. The music is impeccably chosen and performed.

…Faliks’s performance has a fiery confidence all of its own. The melancholy of Tchaikovsky’s op. 19/4 Nocturne is perfectly placed, both in terms of the story and in terms of Faliks’s performance; and the story ends happily. Harrison Birtwistle’s gentle Oockooing Bird is heard against the voice of Rebecca Mozo, not an accompaniment, not even a counterpoint, but an equal partner, poignantly and tellingly. Fittingly, though, it is music that has the last word. As narrator, Rebecca Mozo is appealing and compelling; we believe the emotions, we are gripped.

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Washington Post

by Simon Chin

Reducing Mahler’s Sixth Symphony to a piano recital

Sunday’s concert at the National Gallery of Art posed an existential question: Is Mahler really Mahler without the cowbell?

For the Austrian composer, the rustic ring of the cowbell took on profound significance in his symphonies, representing cosmic solitude in the face of eternity. Pianists Inna Faliks and Daniel Schlosberg put that proposition to the test, doing away with the cowbell — and every other orchestral instrument — in a herculean performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony arranged for piano.

This four-hands version, arranged by Alexander Zemlinsky, comes from an age when amateurs relied on piano transcriptions to become acquainted with the latest symphonies at home. But when listeners can now freely stream countless versions of Mahler’s symphonies performed by the world’s best orchestras, is this relic — one never intended for public performance — anything other than a curiosity or mere technical feat?

Schlosberg, in his program note, suggests that listeners could discover “unexpected details and structures” in this more intimately scaled version. But what came through more strongly in this performance was a sense of the Sixth Symphony as a mood piece. The duo offered a highly personal and subjective reading, full of shifts in color and tempo, with individual passages brimming with character: the manic frenzy of the first movement coda and the coiled energy of the scherzo.

Yet as Faliks and Schlosberg tackled this monumental, 80-minute challenge, they faced an obstacle beyond their control: the muddy acoustics of the West Garden Court, which obliterated inner detail. The pastoral interlude in the first movement, with Zemlinsky’s intrusive tremolos a poor stand-in for Mahler’s distant cowbells, could never hope to achieve a sense of cosmic stillness. Likewise, the dramatic structure of the finale disintegrated into large washes of sound.

The emotional weight of this most tragic of symphonies was felt only when the textures were thinned away: in the hauntingly spare lyricism of the slow movement and, most powerfully, at the conclusion, as the music burst with its final, horrifying crash and faded away into oblivion. The effect was devastating and most definitely Mahler.

Full Article

James Wegg Reviews

by James Wegg

My life till now, through words and sound

All human beings have a life journey. Like a good story, each one has a beginning, a middle and an end.

With the rise of social media, some “biographers” choose to tell their story daily—assuming that what they just had for lunch would be of interest to their legion of “likers”.

Happily, the art of memoire has not vanished from the planet; those who craft their experiences well will find interest from many, many others they have never met.

In the particular case of pianist Inna Faliks, the more unusual route of combining music and professionally narrated text has produced a two-CD set that traces “the life thus far” from Odessa through Chicago, Toulouse, Paris and New York City.

At the centre of it all (including the album’s title) is also the longest work in the set: Chopin’s Polonaise-fantasie, OP 61. From a musical point of view, it is lovingly crafted and yields a fine balance between lift, legato and ever-sensitive harmonic shifts. Only more “ring” in the upper reaches could improve the result.

But on the dramatic level, Chopin’s essay serves as a fitting homage to Faliks’ beloved mentor, Mr. D (a.k.a. Filipino, Emilio del Rosario), who guided his student with tough love in the windy city for many years. On his death bed, he asked for the Polonaise-fantaisie from his star student; sadly, she had not yet learned it.

In between the piano interventions are Faliks’ narrative of the comings and goings in her life. They are narrated with flair by actor Rebecca Mozo, yet her professional voice doesn’t quite get underneath the skin of the “creator” (and the inevitable edits could have been much more seamless with the inclusion of ambient sound).

One of the many musical highlights was the trio of Gershwin Preludes which Faliks readily tossed off with élan, sauciness and marvellous control as required.

On the other side of the ledger was Mozart’s Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397, where an overabundance of affectation marred the flow.

To conclude—with long-time boyfriend Misha now fulfilling his promise as life partner—it fell to Harrison Birtwistle’s “Oockooing Bird” intertwined (for the first time) with Faliks’/Mozo’s reflective, thoughtful summation of “a life so far”. Without doubt, the piano trumps the voice in so many ways, underscoring what was really important and just what has been learned up till now.

Full Review

Classical Voice North America

by Wynne Delacoma

“With Faliks in the lead, the prickly Scherzo and huge, dramatic Finale fully reflected Mahler’s mighty voice. Faliks is a poetic pianist, unafraid to linger over a short pause or craft a melodic fragment to explode and fade with blinding speed. But especially in the transcription’s fast-paced final movements she never lost the singing-through line so crucial to navigating Mahler’s often chaotic universe. The Scherzo’s staccato, martial rhythms could be crisply stern but also piquant and witty. Its lyrical moments glowed, thanks to Falik’s pliant, flexible melody lines.”

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Stage and Cinema

by Tony Frankel

“Huang and Aznavoorian returned after intermission with pianist Inna Faliks for a triumphant rendering of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67.

For the Camerata players to evoke emotion while excavating Shostakovich’s sharper vocabulary of musical images, figures, and gestures was remarkable. Faliks’ mash-up of sensitivity and pure fury brought a heightened relevance to this rarely performed, beautifully complex stunner. A simply enthralling performance!

Prokofiev Flute Sonata… The emotion came from Faliks, whose expressive, spirited, curious interactions brought life to even the conventional accompaniment patterns of the four-movement piece.”

Full Review

WFMT (Chicago)

by Lisa Flynn

Inna Faliks is a Ukrainian-born pianist known for alternating musical interludes with spoken word, taking the form here of narrative storytelling. Faliks’ new album chronicles her life’s path: her family’s emigration to America, her seminal early influences and her evolution as an artist. And it’s also a love story, as she is reunited as an adult with the childhood friend who is now her husband. Each episode is narrated by actress Rebecca Mozo.

Providence Journal

by Channing Gray

The Newport Music Festival got serious Thursday night with its marathon Beethoven series, rounding up three pianists to tackle the composer’s last three piano sonatas, heaven-bound creations written just a few years before Beethoven’s death, when he was lost in the world of deafness and exploring places no other composer revisited.

To hear one of these sonatas, all so bold and inventive, is a treat. But to hear all three in a single sitting with no intermission can be life-changing.

Too bad the performances were so uneven.

I suspected problems were in store when Czech pianist Terezie Fialova walked on the stage of The Breakers with the score to Opus 109 in hand, rather than have the work down cold and under the fingers.

True, there were some lovely moments in the opening, which contains some of Beethoven’s tenderest writing. But Fialova clearly was not on top of the blistering, finger-twisting second movement.

But she also sounded like she was sight reading. It was a perfunctory performance that seemed so tied to the sheet music that it never was able to touch the heart of this amazing piece with its shimmering set of variations.

But things improved when Boston-based pianist John Ferguson sat down to Opus 110, even though he was hanging on for dear life in the second movement’s tricky, crossed-hands section or the angry second movement.

Ferguson caught on fire for the finale, a sprawling fugue that pauses a couple of times for some of the saddest music Beethoven ever wrote. And Ferguson played these heart-breaking melodies pretty straight, letting the music speak for itself.

But I couldn’t help feeling there was room for a little more emotional spin on the playing, to stretch a bit and really pour his heart out. But most of the time that was held in check.

Ferguson deserves a big hand for his heroic finale, where the fugue blossoms into a soaring anthem.

But it was Ukrainian-born pianist Inna Faliks, who blew the other two pianists out of the water with her enthralling account of Opus 111, the last of the three sonatas and one of Beethoven’s most stunning creations, as he ends a lifetime of sonatas with a few shimmering scale passages and a hushed C Major chord.

This amazing score was clearly in her DNA, as Faliks charged into the brooding introduction when we all thought she was adjusting the piano bench. And from there she had the audience hanging on every note.

Unfortunately, a muffled thud could be heard during the spellbinding set of variations that caps of the last of the 32, and it seemed to be coming from the piano.

But otherwise, this was one of the most moving performance I’ve ever heard of Opus 111, a work whose stormy opening gives way to a great hymn to humanity.

The Newport Festival, held in Bellevue Avenue’s lavish mansions, continues Friday with a sunrise concert, a family concert and an evening of Mozart.

In all, the marathon event, ending July 23, will present 56 concerts in just over two weeks.

Full Review

Classical Voice of North Carolina

by William Thomas Walker

A bevy of music lovers in the Recital Hall of the University of North Carolina Greensboro heard an eclectic program in the final concert of the Rice Toyota Sitkovetsky and Friends Chamber Music Series. The Master Works series piano soloist, Inna Faliks, was heard in chamber music for wind quintet by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), a trio piece for strings by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and a spectacular keyboard solo by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Faliks is the new Head of Piano and Associate Professor of Piano at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music besides her international tours as a soloist.

Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat, Op. 16 for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon opened the concert. The composer modeled his quintet of 1797 closely after Mozart’s K. 452 of 1784 for the same instrumentation and in the same key. Both composers wrote with themselves in mind as the keyboard player. Beethoven melded the traditional serenade-like sonority of the winds with his own innovative piano style. It is in three movements. A long, slow and measured introduction leads into the first movement in which each of its three themes is presented by the piano before being taken up by the winds. A long phrased melody, introduced by the piano, dominates the slow movement. Beethoven toys with keys, embellishes the theme along with added countermelodies and adds contrapuntal touches. Expectations of a standard rondo form are tweaked in the bubbly and vivacious finale.

Pianist Faliks was joined by oboist Ashley Barret, clarinetist Kelly Burke, bassoonist Carol Bernstorf, and Bob Campbell on horn, all principals of their sections in the Greensboro Symphony. The balance between the keyboard and the wind players as a group and individually was excellent. Kaliks’ beaming expression reflected her evident joy at the give and take between the players. Her refined tone, phrasing, and care for rhythm were models of Beethoven style. What a broad palette of color was evident as each instrument either paired with the piano, blended with one or more winds, or acted as a wind quartet! Intonation was excellent and each player played with enthusiasm and complete technical mastery.

Schubert’s Trio in E-flat, D. 897 is rarely heard in concert. It was published posthumously by Anton Diabelli in 1845 as Op. 148 with the spurious nickname “Nocturne.” On the autograph score, Schubert wrote “Adagio” while “nocturne” was added by an unknown hand. The paper is the same as he used for the Piano Trio in E-flat, D. 929 and the fresh copy for Die Winterreise. These, plus the earlier Piano Trio in B-flat, D. 898, were composed around the same time leading many to date the “Nocturne” to 1827 and widespread speculation it might have been a rejected slow movement for the earlier B-flat trio. Its music seems to anticipate the heavenly slow movement of the great Quintet in C, D. 956, while the future quintet’s finale is hinted at by the nocturne’s use of pizzicato. Documentation is weak for the theory that Schubert took the melody from a pile driver crew’s work song in Gmunden in the lake country east of Salzburg. A vigorous central section is surrounded with a serene slow melody.

Faliks was joined by music director Dmitri Sitkovetsky on violin and cellist Brooks Whitehousefrom the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the Winston-Salem Symphony. Faliks’ fine rolling arpeggio chords were followed by the seraphic blended sound of the strings spinning out an almost timeless melody. Intonation, dynamics, and phrasing were perfect. Balance was remarkably equal during the turbulent middle section, while the return of the ethereal song was as immaculate as before.

The suite Gaspard de la Nuit is one of the most challenging works in the solo-piano repertoire. Solo works are rare in this series but the presence of Faliks, who so clearly has the “chops” (and then some), it was a real treat to hear this rarely performed work live.

Ravel aimed to surpass the difficulty of Islamey (1869) by Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) which out-Liszts Liszt! Ravel was inspired by three poems, “Ondine,” “Le Gibet,” and “Scarbo” by Aloysius Bertrand whose vivid imagery was a forerunner of the Symbolist movement. Ondine is a sea sprite and her story parallels the plot of Dvořák’s Rusalka. The melody emerges within a rhythmic-harmonic motive and reappears “again and again enveloped in variegated swirls of glistening arpegiated arabesques” (John Gillespie: Five Centuries of Keyboard Music). “Le Gibet” portrays a corpse swinging from a gibbet, looking reddened in the setting sun. The atmosphere is maintained by Ravel’s use of “a repeated octave B-flat,” suggesting a death bell, surrounded by a mournful melody based upon seventh and ninth chords. “Scarbo” depicts a grotesque dwarf, like something out of the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. It is a fantastic scherzo in which two themes, one powerfully rhythmic and a second, gay and dance like, are given glittering, pedal-to-the-metal treatment before fading to a whisper of sound.

Like her GSO opening night performance of her encore (Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations), Faliks kept listeners in open mouth wonder with her seemingly magical keyboard wizardry. From my seat I could not see the abundance of crossed hands listeners were commenting about as they left after her repeated curtain calls. Her palette of refined color, dynamics, and tone were breathtaking. I hope to hear her in future GSO seasons. She has recorded the Ravel on MRS Classics Records (B002AH970Q).

As part of the Greensboro Symphony Guild‘s outreach, a large contingent of string players from Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, under the direction of Veronica Allen, played in the lobby before the concert. It is good to see music in the public schools getting strengthened.

Full Review

  1. Rzewski "The People United Shall Never Be Defeated" (excerpt, improvised cadenza) Inna Faliks 8:36
  2. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - I Inna Faliks 15:12
  3. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks 10:27
  4. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - III Inna Faliks 8:26