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.