Gramophone Review

by Guy Rickards

Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel

This album is, quite simply put, a real surprise. Not just for the fine playing of Inna Faliks or her imaginative programming, but for the quality of the nine new works that reimagine collectively the two pianistic classics at the heart of the programme.

Each [of the responses to Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit] is a substantial, independent concert work in its own right. […] Billy Childs’s Pursuit is a ‘Scarbo’ for the 21st century, tailored to Inna Faliks’s cultured pianism. […] Impressive.

Cherry Grove Music Review

by Joel C. Thompson

The Schumann Project, Volume 1

Captivating poetics, unforced and flowing, emanate from the hands of pianist Inna Faliks while she shares her renderings of works by Clara and Robert Schumann on the MSR CD, “The Schumann Project, Vol.1.” The recording includes Clara Schumann’s “Sonata in G Major” and Robert Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes,” not published during their 19th century lifetimes. Yet, each of the works reveals their talents and may well become part of one’s music listening repertoire, especially as Faliks masterfully plays them. A piano sits idle and says nothing until a virtuoso takes command of it. In this case, Faliks brings a delightful, relaxed beauty to the ears of her audience which stands apart from what other performers may offer. From its opening note to its last, her performance involves an hour that vanishes in a flash. How that magically occurs is a result of her talents and skills as well her knowledge of the Schumanns as it is shared with us in the CD booklet. We may expect a sequel to this effort in as much as Faliks has labeled this CD “Volume 1.” If you have heard Faliks perform in concert or if you have been fortunate to have one or both of her other CDs on MSR, “Sound of Verse” or works by Ludwig Beethoven, you will no doubt be pleased with this Schumann CD, or it will provide an introduction to her earlier two titles.

“I found Faliks rather exceptional in her own right as a pianist, aside from being compared with dozens of virtuosos I have heard over decades. There is something ethereal, effortless, about her playing that would be hard to define. It is what happens when those of us in the arts stop trying and let it happen as it will. In her case, she is capable of shear, unforced beauty in performance, worth a detour and some expense to experience in person at a concert, I would say.”

 

Schumann CD review by James Harrington, Fanfare

“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.”

SCHUMANN Symphonic Études, op. 13. C. SCHUMANN Piano Sonata in g / MSR 7891 (55:10)

Ukrainian-born American pianist Inna Faliks is Professor of Piano and Head of the Piano Department at UCLA. She has a busy concert schedule (with the exception of this past year) and a long established interest in presenting programs that include poetry and spoken word interspersed with wide-ranging piano repertoire. I attended one of these enjoyable and unique programs in New York several years ago. She has worked with the Yamaha Disklavier extensively for many years and she told me that technology has been huge in her recording, teaching, and performing over the past year. This disc was recorded under challenging circumstances last summer with Faliks at the piano in a mask and her sound engineer a floor below, on Skype.

Here we have Volume 1 of The Schumann Project. Each program is planned to juxtapose a major work by both Robert (1810-56) and Clara (1819-96). Faliks says this may invite comparisons, but her goal is simply to unite their musical voices. When they met, Clara was 9 years old and Robert 18. About 10 years later in 1837, Robert proposed and Clara accepted. Due to Clara’s father’s objections they were not married until 1840. Over the next 14 years, they had 8 children and Clara’s continuing concert career was their primary source of income. She was a child prodigy and continued to be highly regarded as a pianist for over 60 years. Arguably only Liszt was considered her superior. Robert composed far more music and was an influential music critic, but his early career as a virtuoso pianist was cut short by a hand injury. He and Clara composed only one work together, the Zwölf Lieder auf F. Rückerts Liebesfrühling, her op. 12 and his op. 37. They were supportive and close to Brahms who helped Clara manage the household and finances, especially after Robert’s breakdown and subsequent death.

Clara’s Piano Sonata in G minor (1841-42) opens this program. It is a 20 minute, large, four movement work. Clara, at the age of 22, wrote in her diary “I tried to compose something for Robert, and lo and behold, it worked! I was blissful at having really completed a first and second sonata movement, which did not fail to produce an effect – namely, they took my dear husband quite by surprise.” The sonata was never performed during her lifetime; it was first published in 1991. Clara took the third movement Scherzo and made it the 4th of her Vier flüchtige Stücke, op. 15 (published 1845).

Faliks performed Clara’s Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony when she was 15 years old, the same age as Clara when she composed it. Last year Faliks’s students performed Clara’s piano works in their entirety. The performance here comes with a deep understanding of the composer, developed over a lifetime. The youthfulness in this work is played with a clarity and sense of style that makes it very natural. Clara was generous in her score with tempo and phrase markings and Faliks’s misses nothing. We get an enticing view of the work that is dramatic, tender, sparkling, and energetic as is called for in the four movements.

Robert’s Symphonic Études began in 1834 as a theme by Baron von Fricken and 16 variations with an additional variation on a different theme by Heinrich Marschner that also incorporates the Fricken theme occasionally. By the time the first edition was published in 1837, 11 of the Fricken variations and the Marschner variation Finale were published as Etüden in Form von Variationen (Symphonische Étüden). This is the edition used by Faliks. To make things a little more confusing, 9 of the 12 études are subtitled as Variations 1 to 9, with Études 3 and 9 left without a variation number. In the second edition of 1852, Études 3 and 9 were omitted completely, along with some minor revisions to the piano writing.

If you want a little more confusion, remember that originally there were a total of 16 Fricken variations, but only 11 were included in the published Symphonic Études. Brahms published the five left out as Posthumous Variations in 1890 and nowadays most pianists include these in their performances. Faliks addresses the issue of these five in a very personal way. As she explains in her superb booklet essay, her choices impact the emotional arch of the entire piece. She is successful at placing them where they speak most powerfully and dramatically. Posthumous Variations 1 and 2 come after Étude 3, P. Var. 3 after Étude 5, P. Var. 4 after Étude 8, and P. Var. 5 after Étude 11. I was quite taken with the insertion of P. Var. 5 between Étude 11 and the Finale. It means that Faliks arrives at DI Major one variation before the Finale, but the quiet beauty of Étude 11 is extended by P. Var. 5 in a most convincing way.

The Symphonic Études are considered among the most difficult of Robert’s large-scale composition and Faliks is up to every demand. Although there are only three dotted rhythms in the Theme, Robert has a predilection for this rhythm all through his music (especially here in Variations 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, and 12). The rhythmic accuracy of Faliks playing brings extra interest and even a snap to these variations. The composer also uses repeated notes or chords in his accompaniments. If played straight, despite what’s going on in the bass and melody, the variation can drag on. Not here! Variation 2 is a perfect example. Faliks plays each group of repeated chords with forward movement and dynamic shaping. 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.

She does face formidable competition from greats like Richter, Kempff, Gilels, and Ashkenazy, to name a few. That her album concept is unique and her exceptional pianism backs it up is all the reason you need to add this to your library. I asked Faliks what her future plans were for this series and she responded, “I think the next disc will have Davidsbundlertanze of Robert and possibly the great Variations (op. 20) of Clara as well as her Mazurka quoted by Robert at the opening of Davidsbundlertanze. The challenge is to find works that truly complement each other, highlighting contrasting qualities but also letting the pieces shine individually – like an artistic exchange between two kindred spirits, which they certainly were.”  With the superb recorded sound of her Yamaha DCFX and high production values all around, I am certain to be on the lookout for all future volumes in this series.  James Harrington

 

Amazon rating = 5 stars     Heading = “Robert and Clara Schumann – Kindred Spirits”

Lucid Culture Review: “A Fascinating Collection of New Piano Music and the Beethoven and Ravel That Inspired It”

From Lucid Culture, June 12, 2021 also in New York Music Daily

Pianist Inna Faliks excels particularly at innovative and interesting programming, whether live or on album. On her latest release, Reimagine – streaming at youtube – she’s commissioned a fascinating mix of contemporary composers to write their own relatively short pieces inspired by, and interspersed among, Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Op. 126. She also includes a handful of new works drawing on Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. It’s a big success on both a curatorial and interpretive level.

With the Beethoven, Faliks is typically understated, yet finds interesting places for flash. In the first Bagatelle, she employs very subtle rubato and a jaunty outro. She gives the etude-like No. 2 a light-fingered staccato, then brings the brings ornamentation front and center in No. 3, a counterintuitive move. In No. 4, she shows off a calm precision and nimble command of how artfully phrases are handed off – along with the jokes in the lefthand.

No. 5 is very cantabile, yet almost furtive in places. And Faliks approaches No. 6 with coy staccato but a remarkably steadfast, refusenik sensibility against any kind of beery exuberance.

In the first of the new pieces, Peter Golub‘s response to Bagatelle No. 1, ragtime tinges give way to acidic, atonal cascades and a bit of a coy tiptoeing theme. Tamir Hendelman‘s variation on No. 2 has Faliks scampering slowly, coalescing out of a rather enigmatic melody through a bit of darkness to a triumphant coda.

Richard Danielpour‘s Childhood Nightmare, after No. 3 is the album’s piece de resistance and the closest thing here to the original, steadily and carefully shifting into more menacing tonalties. Ian Krouse’s Etude 2A, inspired by No. 4 is also a standout, with spare, moody modal resonance and a racewalking staccato alternating with scurrying passages.

Arguably the most lyrical of the new pieces here, Mark Carlson‘s Sweet Nothings is a slowly crescendoing, fond but ultimately bittersweet nocturne built around steady lefthand arpeggios. In David Lefkowitz‘s take on No. 6, after an intro that seems practically a parody, Faliks works a subdued, swaying 12/8 rhythm amid murky resonances.

Next up are the Ravel-inspired works. Paola Prestini’s neoromantically-tinged triptych Ondine: Variations on a Spell begins with the broodingly impressionistic low-midrange Water Sprite, followed by the Bell Tolls, with a long upward drive from nebulosity to an anthemic, glistening payoff. The finale, Golden Bees follows a series of anthemic, flickering cascades

The album’s longest work is Timo Andres‘ Old Ground, an attempt to give subjectivity to the unfortunate victim of the hanging in the gibbet scene via distantly ominous, Philip Glass-ine clustering phrases and eventually a fugal interlude with echoes of both gospel and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Faliks winds up the record with Billy Childs‘ Pursuit, using the Scarbo interlude as a stepping-off point for an allusively grim narrative where a black man is being chased: possibly by the Klan, or a slaver, or the cops. A steady, lickety-split theme contrasts with still, spare wariness and a stern chordal sequence straight out of late Rachmaninoff.

New Album: Reimagine Beethoven and Ravel

Inna Faliks breaks new ground with REIMAGINE: BEETHOVEN & RAVEL – 9 WORLD PREMIERES released June 11, 2021 on Navona Records, an homage to Beethoven and Ravel which manages to do the impossible: be breathtakingly innovative while remaining respectful to the source material.

Nine contemporary composers, including Richard Danielpour, Paola Prestini, Billy Childs, and Timo Andres, were commissioned to craft responses to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Bagatelles, op. 126 (incidentally, the master’s favorite) as well as Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. The results are exhilarating, not least owing to Faliks’s stunningly precise and sensitive pianistic interpretation: the Ukrainian-born American pianist ties together Classical, Romantic and modern pieces with disarming nonchalance and rock-solid technical skill. Defying the challenge of uniting three centuries of musical styles and social commentary, as well as producing an album during a global pandemic with the help of Yamaha’s Disklavier technology, REIMAGINE proudly raises a monument not only to the genius of Beethoven and Ravel, but also to the perseverance and verve of some of today’s most exciting and important composers. Billy Childs’ track, “Pursuit”, was be released as a single on May 28th.

Purchase or stream now on all platforms.

Cinemusical Review

by Steven A. Kennedy

Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel

“[Works by Prestini, Andres, and Childs] provide some windows into Faliks’ technical virtuosity, … [highlighting] her interpretive, lyrical playing well.  This ample collection of pieces gives listeners a good appreciation of her skills.

Faliks performances are solid here and the works make extensive exploration of the rich sound of the piano which is captured well in this release.  These re-imaginings make a fine introduction to Faliks’ programming approaches and the Beethoven performances should stand well against any others.”

Full Review

Atlanta Audio Club Review

by Phil Muse

The Schumann Project, Volume 1

“Faliks meets this challenge admirably, using her own impressive technique and sense of proportion to position them for optimal effect. The result is often very moving, as in No.3, which seems like a demonic waltz, and No.2, a feverish dream. Consider the way the luminous Posthumous Variation No.5 in D-flat major allows the performer to reach the D-flat major finale without noticeable strain. Or the way Posthumous Variation No.4 sounds like a lament, making it the perfect chaser for the preceding variation which comes across as a funeral march. Great stuff – and Faliks knows just where to place the emphasis.”

Atlanta Audio Club Review

By Phil Muse

BEETHOVEN: PIANO SONATA NO.32, POLONAISE, FANTAISIE, “EROICA” VARIATIONS

“Inna Faliks, an American pianist of Ukrainian origin, has already won many honors in competitions, given numerous master classes, and taken up residencies in conservatories and universities on three continents. What distinguishes her from other keyboard artists with impressive resumes is a keen perception of the harmonic and physical structure of the music she plays and an unerring ability to convey this to us in terms of emotion, clarity, and style. She puts them over in one irresistible package better than anyone you are likely to encounter. The fact that she is a Yamaha Artist also plays a part, as the beautifully defined registration of her instrument seems to free her to concentrate on matters of interpretation and communication.”

  1. La Campanella, Paganini - Liszt Inna Faliks 4:53
  2. Rzewski "The People United Shall Never Be Defeated" (excerpt, improvised cadenza) Inna Faliks 8:36
  3. Beethoven Eroica Variations Inna Faliks 9:59
  4. Gershwin: Prelude 3 in E-flat Minor Inna Faliks 1:25
  5. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 10:27
  6. Gaspard de la Nuit (1908) : Scarbo - Ravel Inna Faliks 9:07
  7. Sirota by Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin Inna Faliks 7:45