Classical Sonoma

by Elizabeth Warnimont

Guest conductor Thomas Heuser led a reconstituted Vallejo Symphony in its first concert of the new season Sept. 20 in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium. Mr. Heuser is the first of three candidates for the position of symphony artistic director, and each will conduct one concert.

There were familiar faces on the stage though most of the musicians are new to the VSO since last season, as many long-time members left the Orchestra after long-time artistic director David Ramadanoff departed last year.

Mr. Heuser chose some blockbuster works for his trial by fire, which, as he quipped on the stage Sunday, was an appropriate phrase given the near-100-degree temperatures outside. He sparked that fire conducting a brisk, pre-program Star Spangled Banner, for which virtually everyone in the audience stood, either with a hand over the heart or in formal salute. It was a refreshing surprise and a unifying icebreaker, for the orchestra as well as the audience. After the rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the orchestra proceeded with the first of three classical favorites, Smetana’s The Moldau. The Moldau, or “Vltava,” named after a majestic Prague river, is part of a series of six symphonic poems the composer completed late in his career, collectively titled “Ma Vlast,” or “My Homeland.”

“Each work takes its inspiration from a different aspect of Bohemian/Czech culture, landscape or history,” said the VSO‘s Mary Eichbauer, and “Vltava expresses the renewed strength and unified spirit of Bohemia.” In his introduction to the audience Sunday, Mr. Heuser described the piece as a contrast between the rugged and serene aspects of the river as it courses along toward its end, ultimately emptying into the Elbe River. “Rachmaninoff also had intense sadness and joy in his life,” he added, suggesting that the Smetana piece is also reflective of the life of its composer. The work is bold and elegant, containing obvious suggestions of flowing water (a steady beat emanating from the cellos and basses) as the violins play a sprightly melody accentuated by clear winds. The music is powerful in a gentle, aesthetically pleasing way. There was great majesty and confidence in the performance, but it is a happy confidence, a celebration of life and progress, devoid of fury.

The audience showed its admiration for the performance with a standing ovation. Rachmaninoff’s C Minor Concerto, Op. 18, followed with Ukrainian-born pianist Inna Faliks as the soloist. Ms. Falik’s mastery is solid, and her performance with the symphony was strong and polished. Her precision and power was impressive, though piano and orchestra could have meshed more smoothly. In fact, while for the most part the orchestra sounded cohesive, the instrumental sections were not consistently in sync. The final movement was played energetically, and again audience applause was loud and long.

The program concluded with Dvorak’s “New World” Ninth Symphony, Op. 95. The smoothness of the phrasing in the strings provided a foundation for the familiar themes and was reminiscent of the Smetana work. This E Minor work from 1893 contains fewer contrasts than the expressive Moldau and flows more steadily forward without marked passages of serenity or tumult. The music had quite a lulling effect in the warm Hogan, especially in the Largo where the instruments sounded most graceful and closely attuned to each other. As the piece gained momentum in the final Allegro the orchestra gained sonority and power, becoming more unified at the end.

It was a successful audition for the conductor. The fact of repeated standing ovations spoke volumes for the quality of the performance, but in addition there was a sense in the auditorium that many would be returning for the next two concerts and their candidate conductors, Christian Baldini (Nov. 8) and Marc Taddei (Jan. 31).

Full Review

Peninsula Reviews

by Richard Lynde

Inna Faliks began the “Music/Words” series in New York, and with her recent relocation as head of the Herb Alpert Piano Department at UCLA, has continued this unique and memorable practice to our state and county. In Ellen Bass, she could not have picked a better partner. Our poet said that for her this new way of thinking about music is “a conversation.” It began with her quiet reading of “Relax,” about bad things that will happen, such as fungus on tomatoes, cats run over, even a lesbian wife, all stated with a wry humor: like those to follow, what she called “talking poems” meant to be read aloud, something she is very good at. Faliks then took to the keyboard in Schedrin’s (b. 1932) “Basso Ostinato,” a blizzard of sound that was wild, fast, jazzy like Gershwin and reflective of Prokofiev and Stravinsky, a tour de force with underlying humor and perfect control.

Then Ellen Bass read again, this time, “Jazz,” about sending her poems out into the world as if a child, a modern take on our great 17th century American Ann Bradstreet’s own similar feelings. In “Waiting for Rain” she tells how the ancient philosopher Lucretius got her through the night with his idea of atoms “combining” and “recombining” amid the void. “When you return,” magically has eggs going back to shells, “letters unwrite themselves” and diamonds to coal to rotting leaves. Amazing imagery, fresh and immediate.

Next, Inna Faliks played the Mozart (1756-91) “Fantasie in D Minor K. 397,” a brief, intensely moody departure from his sonatas, which she made startling with its shifts between the opening Andante, then Adagio than a Presto played almost too fast to hear, but with perfect accuracy to end the high mini drama. Then, in “If you know,” Bass told of ticket takers touching palms with concert goers, followed by “God’s Grief” with startling images of God, Joan of Arc, Houdini – her words as magical as his magic tricks. In “God in Trouble” a beached whale decomposes, then in “Listening” she imagines having heard Keats read his “Autumn” to a friend. To “words like wine/ I listened with my spine,” both funny and profound.

Then in a brilliant stroke for both performers and audience, Faliks departed from the printed program which had Bass reading between movements of the huge Brahms (1833-97) “Sonata No. 2 in F Sharp Minor,” written and played by the composer in 1853 when he was “only” 20 and full of storm and stress along with tenderness. In the often fiendishly difficult and architecturally perfect four-movement work, played straight through and received with tumultuous applause, the noble work was the best-performed these ears have heard on this mighty Yamaha since Yevgeny Sudbin in a big Scriabin sonata almost two years ago. The Brahms began with a huge attack blaring forth the “allegro, not too fast but with energy.” The “andante with expression” was a stroll with purpose, a meditation that becomes intense and moody, alternating playfulness with severity, then lushness – typical of Brahms, and with Faliks sitting, as usual, with her face right over the keys, as expressive as the notes she was playing. The moving Scherzo was hardly a musical “joke,” but a brief lead up to the “Finale,” played with a gripping intensity, blazing keys played flat-fingered for speed like Horowitz, then a maternal tenderness like the famous Brahms “Lullaby,” coherent in all its many moods, and ending with a big bang. All gave a standing ovation.

Then Bass read three concluding poems, ending with “Reincarnation,” not returning as the “totem of a shaman,” but rather as an OYSTER! Very funny, very apt, very original, like all of her works. Faliks then concluded the intermissionless 110-minute program, which passed as if in a dream, with Liszt’s (1811-86) “La Campanella,” a glittering whimsical bon-bon that left a grateful audience with church bells ringing in our heads.

“…in a brilliant stroke for both performers and audience, Faliks… had [Ellen] Bass reading between movements of the huge Brahms (1833-97) “Sonata No. 2 in F Sharp Minor,” written and played by the composer in 1853 when he was “only” 20 and full of storm and stress along with tenderness. In the often fiendishly difficult and architecturally perfect four-movement work, played straight through and received with tumultuous applause, the noble work was the best-performed these ears have heard on this mighty Yamaha since Yevgeny Sudbin in a big Scriabin sonata almost two years ago. The Brahms began with a huge attack blaring forth the “allegro, not too fast but with energy.” The “andante with expression” was a stroll with purpose, a meditation that becomes intense and moody, alternating playfulness with severity, then lushness – typical of Brahms, and with Faliks sitting, as usual, with her face right over the keys, as expressive as the notes she was playing. The moving Scherzo was hardly a musical “joke,” but a brief lead up to the “Finale,” played with a gripping intensity, blazing keys played flat-fingered for speed like Horowitz, then a maternal tenderness like the famous Brahms “Lullaby,” coherent in all its many moods, and ending with a big bang. All gave a standing ovation.”

Full Review

Chicago Sun-Times

By Dorothy Andries

Sometimes a concert is so graceful and so unusual that it must be mentioned. Such was the program “Music/Words” the evening of Saturday May 2 in the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

Pianist Inna Faliks performed three works by Beethoven, interspersed by three sets of poems by German poets Goethe and Schiller, read by Peter van de Graaff. Faliks has a national career and was featured in MIC’s fourth annual Distinguished Alumni Concert because at one point she studied with the late Emilio del Rosario, one of the community music school’s outstanding teachers.

Van de Graaff is a bass-baritone, who sings with numerous area groups and has performed internationally. He is also a long-time announcer on radio station WFMT, and it was for his speaking voice that he was engaged for this enterprise.

The evening opened with three poems by Goethe. There’s nothing like a good radio voice and van de Graaff has one of the best. He presented the poems with clarity and precision and, when appropriate, decidedly cheerful animation.

Who can object to an all-Beethoven program? Faliks eagerly embraced the challenge of that monumental composer. She opened with his Polonaise in C, which begins with crashing chords, but includes delicate moments. She handled everything deftly, displaying speed and her formidable technique throughout.

Her second number was Beethoven’s Fantasia, Op. 77, a free flowing fire-and-ice composition. It seemed an ideal match with her temperament.

Van de Graaff demonstrated his dramatic abilities in the poems by Schiller. Especially memorable was “The Breeze,” in which his voice dropped to a whisper as the words tell of sleep. The well-chosen finale was “Elysium,” which bespoke eternal rest and joy.

Faliks concluded the night with Sonata No. 32, giving the work a nimble, graceful performance, showing off her dexterity, as well as her dynamic reach.

She is associate professor of piano at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. The Music/Words, now in its sixth season in New York City, is her own creation. The MIC concert was so carefully crafted and delightfully done that it resembled a salon experience.

This imaginative event lasted just over an hour, but was as satisfying, actually even more so, than a program twice its length.

More programs of the Music Institute of Chicago at musicinst.org.

Haaretz

by Hagai Hitron

Simply exquisite, with many expressive and colorful phrases played by the pianist Inna Faliks… Beethoven Fantasie is worth knowing and was also performed very well by Faliks.”

American Record Guide

by James Harrington

In the old days of stores with a large selection of classical CDs, I browsed for hours and would have purchased this on the basis of its content alone. Here is my favorite piano sonata and my favorite set of variations, in a program with a couple of compositions I didn’t know — an unbeatable Beethoven recital. Played with strength and imagination, the performances are hard to beat. The program is perfectly ordered, opening with the lighter-weight but charming Polonaise, followed by the hefty Variations. The Fantasia is a substantial eight-minute work vaguely reminiscent of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and offers an interesting break before one of the greatest piano works of all time, Beethoven’s final sonata.

Faliks’s excellent first CD included Rachmaninoff Sonata 2 and Gaspard de la Nuit (MSR 1333, Jan/Feb 2010). I have seen her perform in New York on two occasions and have a non-commercial earlier recording of Sonata 32. She teaches at UCLA and performs all over the USA and also in Italy and Israel. She is a pioneer in Yahama’s newest technology that allows long distance playing and teaching piano via the Internet, video, and their Disklavier recording and reproducing pianos.

Her competition in the big pieces is formidable. I have spent many years listening to Richter (Olympic 339, May/June 1994) and Brendel (Vox 3017, Mar/Apr 1993) play the variations, and with this new recording in my collection, I doubt that I’ll return to the old favorites as often. I find a couple of these variations rare examples of Beethoven’s musical humor — and Faliks does not miss them. I don’t have a specific favorite for the sonata, though I’ve seen Barenboim perform it twice (EMI 72912, Mar/Apr 1999). Faliks captures the turbulent aspect of the first movement just right. From the stately theme to the jazzy dance elements of the middle variations to the heaven-bound trills in the upper reaches of the piano, II balances perfectly.

I have purchased many CDs on the basis of their content. Rarely have performances measured up to the music as well as here.

Fanfare

by Jerry Dubins

Ukrainian-born, New York-based Inna Faliks is a pianist as brimful of ideas as she is endowed with talent. She draws a tone of deep sonority from her Yamaha piano, and one senses in her playing a technique of such reserves that she doesn’t even have to call on all of it for these works. That allows her to concentrate on matters of interpretation and communication, which, in the former case is penetrating, and in the latter, extraordinary.

I really like, too, the idea of mixing lesser known Beethoven works with more familiar ones; it makes for an interesting program, and in the case of the Fantasia, a fun one. Play it for your friends, while trying not to laugh, and watch their reactions.

Faliks has yet to become a major presence on record, but with this album and her above-mentioned Sound of Verse now out on a mainstream commercial label, I suspect that’s going to change. A wonderful release all around, and very strongly recommended.

Il Gazzetino Pordenone (Italy)

by Clelia Delponte

“A fierce performance; energetic, determined, and perfect for expressing the interior agitation of the Basso Ostinato by Rodion Schredrin, considered the successor of Shostakovich. This was the opening piece of the recent concert at the Fazioli Concert Hall. Inna Faliks takes command of the instrument, molding it in her unique, personal style that clearly has its origins in the Russian school and is fully capable of interpreting the Polonaise op. 89 (Composed during the Congress of Vienna, loved by the rulers of the period, and dedicated to Elizabeth of Russia) in a way that totally annihilates any accusation of frivolousness, revealing a new Beethoven.

“The solidity of her technique and her sense of dynamics also exalt the tragedy and intensity of the “Appassionata”, so rich with its silences and arpeggios, forti, fortissimi, until she arrives at the final apotheosis. And then a seldom heard piece composed for Faliks by Lev ljova Zurbin, Sirota: two contrasting melodic ideas accompanying a historic recording, as was done in the post-war years by the avantgarde. In this case, it is a religious Jewish song, sung by the Polish singer Sirota for the Jewish New Year of 1908; a minimalist piece that Faliks imbues with interpretive intensity, making even more heart-rending the evocation of a lost time.

“The pianist also moves securely through all of the varied colours of the Davidsbundlertanze, composed by Schumann, at a time when he was battling against the ‘bad taste and bad faith’ of critics who had exalted opinions of Italian opera. Written under the alternating pseudonyms of Florestano and Eusebio, the piece was performed by Faliks with emphasis of harmonic adventure, and rich with dynamics and fantasy.

“As an encore, she performed an explosive Campanella by Paganini-Liszt, and followed that with Tchaikovski’s ‘Barcarola’. Executed with a lulling and even timing, it showed the most delicate and moving tones.”

Full Review

Audiophile Audition

by Steven Ritter

Beethoven’s last piano sonata is somewhat of the odd bird; often people ask “where is the last movement?” In fact, the first movement itself is so perfect in structure, so complete in total that when we get to the longer two-thirds of the whole last movement it can almost feel like a separate work, so worn out are we at the conclusion of the first. But the amazing complexities and almost three-dimensional imaginings of the second movement variations, the jazzy arches (yes, jazz) creative explosions that take place in this final sonata utterance are little less than astounding in their breadth, and transport us to another time and place, or, rather, other times and places.

Variations are of course the essential theme of this disc. The “Eroica” Variations use the familiar theme from his Creatures of Prometheus and Symphony No. 3 to good effect, actually expanding on what we sometimes wish had gone on longer in the symphony. The piece is a piano tour-de-force that calls for big statements largely writ—no subtleties of expression are allowed here in the same way that many of the composer’s other piano works allow. The piece is to be played with boldness and lots of color-laden contrasts in texture and dynamics.

The Fantasia is a piece that is not played all that often, and enters into a rather Lisztian prelude of forcefulness and tremendous virtuosity. Though the notes call it a “soul sister” of the Choral Fantasy, that work seems to me far more pedantic and controlled that what we have in the Fantasia. This is Beethoven at his most explicitly radiant and ecstatic, not as concerned with form as for feeling.

The Polonaise is a piece from 1814, but hearkens back to Beethoven’s earlier Viennese years, and was written for the money. He got 50 ducats for this brash and really entertaining opener, covering the dedicatee’s previous owed amount for the Op. 30 Violin Sonatas from 12 years earlier. It’s a distinctive opus with a lot to offer.

I was not familiar with Inna Faliks until now, and neither apparently is our site, but one hopes that the newfound acquaintance will be developed further. She is a remarkable Ukrainian pianist with chops to burn, a forceful technique and extremely attentive spirit to that of Beethoven. This is a fine recital in warm, resonant sound that highlights the clarity and reasonable sense of balance and voicing that Faliks brings to the instrument. With a desirable program to boot, this is an easy item to recommend.

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 with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 15:12
  3. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 10:27
  4. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - III Inna Faliks with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 8:26