The nationally broadcast radio program Performance Today aired my live performance of “Pursuit” by Billy Childs, for Jacaranda. The episode is called “A potpourri of styles”. The episode aired on over 200 radio stations across the United States, and will be available for on-demand listening here through December 26.
by James Harrington
Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel
The title may be “Reimagine” but the concept is yet another amazing product of Inna Faliks‘s extraordinary imagination. Besides the quality of the music and her exceptional pianism, we have to consider other great aspects of this recording. The program alternates a newly composed Bagatelle response with each of Beethoven’s original six Bagatelles, OP.126. The second part of the program is a series of responses to Ravel’s Gaspard del la Nuit, which has been a part of her repertoire for quite some time now.(MSR 1333, Jan/Feb 2010). We should also honor Faliks for commissioning works from mine composers during the pandemic. All were written specifically for her, and these are world premiere recordings. Her booklet essay is outstanding, and each of the composers contributes a paragraph.
The foundations for this project go back to her studies with Gilbert Kalish. She gives him credit for introducing her to the compositional response idea. Two excellent Faliks recordings also add to the foundation of “Reimagine”: Beethoven (MSR 1446, Mar/Apr 2014) and Ravel (above). Her comments about alternating the Beethoven with newly composed responses are worth quoting here. “I hope that the emerging dialog between then and now points out the unique character of the original while forming a wholly new sonic adventure.” She could not have succeeded better.
Her Gaspard de la Nuit recording from over 10 years ago is still memorable, and she would probably include it in a full recital program with the pieces on this disc. The new works are every bit as demanding as Ravel’s notorious original. ‘Ondine’, the water spirit, gets treated to a pair of Variations on a Spell by Paola Prestini: ‘Water Sprite’ and ‘Bell Tolls’. ‘Le Gibet’, the hanging corpse, inspired Timo Andres to use a forward-moving ostinato that ends with dark chords in his ‘Old Ground’. ‘Scarbo’, the goblin up to nighttime mischief, was taken by Billy Childs to an even darker place in ‘Pursuit’. He used the theme of a black man pursued by either a slave catcher, a KKK mob, or even the police. He calls Faliks’s interpretation of the piece extraordinary. She refers to his new work as one that is as fiendishly difficult to play as Ravel’s finger-buster. ‘Pursuit’ was released as a downloadable single on Navona back in May.
This release continues a lengthening list of great recordings from Faliks. I have been fortunate to see her perform in person a couple of times and have communicated with her via email from time to time. She told me that she hopes to be in New York this coming season for this “Reimagine” program. You can be sure I will be there.
So honored to have my album The Schumann Project, Volume 1 as “Record of the Week” on CBC’s In Concert with Paolo Pietropaolo! The program airs noon ET on Sunday, November 7th, and you can listen at the CBC website.
The CBC’s website describes Pietropaolo’s program as: “The ‘best of the best’ live classical music — that’s the heart and soul of In Concert. Gorgeous chamber works, the world’s finest orchestras, and intimate recitals featuring some of Canada’s best young musicians on the brink of stardom. You’ll hear a carefully curated blend of classical hits along with new brand new discoveries presented with passion and rare insight by Paolo Pietropaolo.”
Thank-you again, Paolo, for your kind appraisal!
For an archive of the episode’s playlist, click here.
The world of music has many facets of course and if you are like me the whole everloving Pop scene seems ever more vast and mysterious. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to assimilate the new flavors of the month there. I no longer feel compelled to hear all that as it comes out. There is too much great music coming out in Classical, New Music, Jazz, Avant, “World” and Avant Rock to appreciate. And the days when I made ends meet in a “Top 40” band are long gone, for better or worse.
So today another unexpected new one by the very talented pianist Inna Faliks. It is called Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel (Navona NV6352). It is a great example of how a poetic musicianship and the freedom to rethink typical categories can make for very enjoyable and rewarding fare.
Essentially Ms. Faliks spans three centuries of piano music by paying homage to Beethoven and Ravel in interesting ways. The program zeroes in on key compositions–Beethoven’s “Bagatelles op. 126” and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.
Ms. Faliks had an inspired idea—to commission living composers to write piano music dedicated to work out modern implications from the Bagatelles and Gaspard. The program features some nine world premieres in all. So to begin the opening sequence each Bagatelle gets Inna’s lucid reading, followed in each case by a commissioned work that draws from that Bagatelle for a special New Music utterance. Stylistically the new works cover a good deal of ground, from harmonically stretched passages to rollickingly motor minimal to anything goes lyricisms.
Each of the six op. 126 “Bagatelles” gets a worthy performance, followed in each case by a newly commissioned work that extends Beethoven to our present day world in interesting ways. And then we have three more works based on Ravel’s Gaspar. The names of the New Music composers are some quite familiar, some less so but all of the music leads to an essential impression of the place of the revered masters in the realm of the Modern.
So we gladly explore the adventurous adoption of each classical work in the imaginative hands of, respectively, Richard Golub, Tamir Hendelman, Richard Danielpour, Ian Krouse, Mark Carlson, David Lefkowitz, Paola Prestini, Timo Andres and Billy Childs.
It is an album that wears very well as you listen repeatedly. It is a beautiful showcase for Inna Faliks’ deeply rich musicality and a wonderful program that gets you to appreciate Beethoven and Ravel anew and what they contribute to our contemporary music world. Strongly recommended.
by Scott Cuellar
The Schumann Project, Volume 1
by John Pitt
Clara Schumann was an outstanding pianist and composer, as well as a pioneer who had a large impact on the history of music. She was a child prodigy, learning early from her father, Friedrich Wieck, a famous German piano teacher. At the tender age of 13, Clara became one of the first pianists to perform from memory and her influence over a 61-year concert career changed the format and repertoire of the piano recital She also composed a works that include piano concertos, chamber music and choral pieces. Clara was married to and supported an even more famous composer, Robert Schumann, who she first met when she was only eight years old. Together they maintained a close relationship with Johannes Brahms (she was the first to perform publicly many works by Brahms). Ukrainian-born American pianist Inna Faliks is a passionately committed artist who has made a name for herself through poetic and commanding performances of standard piano repertoire, genre-bending interdisciplinary projects and inquisitive work with Contemporary composers. She is Professor of Piano and Head of the Piano Department at UCLA and has performed on many of the world’s great stages, with orchestras, in solo appearances and in highly regarded chamber music groups. As she says in her sleeve notes to this outstanding and thought-provoking CD, ‘Juxtaposing two large scale works by Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and Robert Schumann on a recording will certainly invite comparisons between them; however, my aim in The Schumann Project series is to simply unite, on each album, two or more works by kindred souls. How different the dynamics of this ‘power couple’ of the 19th century might be today if one were to imagine Robert and Clara as equal partners in life.’
Inna Faliks gives a warm and expressive performance of the beautiful Piano Sonata in G minor written by Clara, at the age of 22. Never performed during her lifetime, it was first published in 1991, so is not well known. Nevertheless, the sonata marked an important early step in her compositional development between her two other larger-scale works, the Piano Concerto in A minor (which Faliks performed with the Chicago Symphony when she was 15 years old) and the Piano Trio in G minor. Robert Schumann’s large-scale Symphonic Études are among his most difficult compositions to perform but Inna Faliks plays this dramatic, powerful music here with tremendous verve and sensitivity, revealing both her mastery of the piano and her deep understanding of the composer’s work. This impressive first volume in The Schumann Project is highly recommended and will leave listeners eager to discover what further insights future releases in the series may bring. ‘Her quiet, breathless opening of the staccato Étude 9, marked Presto possibile, puts Faliks is in a league with some of the greatest pianists to record this work.’ – Fanfare.
by Ron Schepper
Faliks is well-acquainted with the composers. […] Her intent isn’t to set up an evaluative battleground between the two [Schmanns], but instead show how comfortably their works sit alongside each other, something more easily accomplished when the release presents a single work by each. Faliks rightfully ponders how different things might have been had the nineteenth-century milieu been more conducive to treating the two as artistic equals.
Rich in yearning, ebullience, passion, and grandiosity and filled with laments, marches, and waltzes—the [brooding “Theme”] offers Faliks immense interpretive freedom.
This inaugural volume promises much for whatever else Faliks has planned for the series, and collectively the two recordings testify to her consummate artistry and the enduring nature of the composers’ works.
by Ron Schepper
With [this solo piano release], Inna Faliks shows herself to be both extraordinary musician and inspired conceptualist.
Enhancing the impact of the recording, the six bagatelles appear alongside the compositions they inspired.
Collectively, the results are stunning, for both Faliks’ impeccable execution of the material and the sensitivity she demonstrates in her interpretations.
Faliks gives eloquent voice to the material, and her assured command of tempo and phrasing makes listening to her all the more rewarding. Reimagine succeeds on multiple levels.