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

WTTW

by Marc Vitali

A concert pianist of the highest order, Inna Faliks can be as dramatic or as subtle as a great stage actor. The New Yorker called her performances “adventurous and passionate,” reminding me of the first time I saw her play — in her family’s living room nearly 20 years ago.

Born in Ukraine, Inna was recently named a Professor of Piano at UCLA. In between the Soviet Union and California, she grew up in the Chicago suburbs.

In 1994, Inna was one of the stars of WTTW’s annual program, The Illinois Young Performers Competition. At the age of 15, she performed Tchaikovsky with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I was present at Inna Falik’s Orchestra Hall debut that evening 19 years ago because I produced a short profile of her that was part of the program. It was her debut and mine in a sense — that story was the first story I ever did that made it to air.

An occasional guest soloist on 98.7 WFMT, Faliks has also become a regular at Chicago’s annual Beethoven Festival. Festival founder George Lepauw calls her “one of those trail-blazing musicians who are doing more than most to make classical music exciting and accessible.

She won’t be performing in Chicago again until spring. But if you want to hear the piano played with power and grace, Faliks has just released a new recording of Beethoven masterworks on the MSR Classics label.

Full Review

The Glass

by Chris McGovern

Le Poisson Rouge was the scene where pianist Inna Faliks resumed her Music/Words series with a program of classical and contemporary classical music mixed with spoken word, and immediately sprang into action with Rodion Shchedrin’s “Basso Ostinato”, a piece that didn’t even appear on the printed program, but seemed to set a strong pace for the evening’s selections. It turned out that Inna was really playing the encore first instead of last because she says that the Beethoven piece she closed with (the Sonata Op. 111; We’ll get into this shortly) is so epic that it cannot be followed by an encore. It was probably a good call.

The show felt a bit odd in terms of its placement of material. While you have music that is sure to be in line with a perfectly consistent classical recital, even with the new piece by John Eaton, there was the poetry read by its author Sandra Beasley that, while I really appreciated her work and her quirky style (the volume and character of her delivery would have impressed the casting chiefs of Broadway), wasn’t sure gelled within the framework of this concert. In-between Inna’s selections, Beasley came on and read several original poems that were titled after lines from A.C. Baldwin’s “The Traveler’s Vade Mecum” (While it would have been genuinely practical for me to have read that beforehand, I haven’t) as well as 2 stand-alone poems titled “King” and “Mercy”. Now, it probably hurts me that I am literarily challenged to begin with, but when you have so many artists now that are merging or attempting to merge different art forms together on a single concert stage, it takes daring performances to produce the example that sets the bar–Having said this, I applaud both Faliks and Beasley for making strides in presenting this kind of concert–I still think maybe a concert with more of a new music motif would be a better placement for Beasley’s material, but perhaps if her readings had been in collaboration with Faliks’ piano work, I might feel differently.

Of the music that made up the rest of the concert, Faliks was a glowing presence on the LPR Yamaha Grand (whose lid had a perfect reflection of the piano harp strings from my vantage point) and gave beautiful attack on the John Corigliano piece Fantasia On an Ostinato. The ostinato in question is the theme from the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th–This is clearly becoming one of the most-quoted classical pieces in music having heard it in this context, and Zoe Keating’s arrangement for solo cello. Strangely enough, Pete Seeger doodling it on the banjo was something I heard recently as well.

The premiere of Eaton’s Songs of Nature…and Beyond had guest vocalist David Adam Moore and Inna performing much of the way from inside the piano–Inna had used a shot glass and a towel placed on the strings and Moore sang into the piano mike on a few lines (He even bumped his head on the lid during one of the sections, but seemed to be okay and laughed it off). The piece itself is a considerably melodic work given that the experimental nature of the performance keeps it in an edgier playing field. Moore’s booming voice had a magnificent range and clarity, and his delivery of the text (two of the selected poems are from WB Yeats and Wallace Stevens) was effectively executed (EDITOR’S NOTE: I haven’t read those beforehand, either).

Faliks’ reading of Beethoven’s Sonata #32 in c minor, Op. 111 was the finale of this concert–Played beautifully, and the piece has such a stunning presence in any concert setting with its almost swing-like Arietta, and that seemingly endless trill. Faliks indeed made the right call to switch the encore to the start of the program in order for the coda of the sonata to resonate gently into the night.

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