Classical Voice of North Carolina

by William Thomas Walker

A bevy of music lovers in the Recital Hall of the University of North Carolina Greensboro heard an eclectic program in the final concert of the Rice Toyota Sitkovetsky and Friends Chamber Music Series. The Master Works series piano soloist, Inna Faliks, was heard in chamber music for wind quintet by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), a trio piece for strings by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and a spectacular keyboard solo by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Faliks is the new Head of Piano and Associate Professor of Piano at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music besides her international tours as a soloist.

Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat, Op. 16 for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon opened the concert. The composer modeled his quintet of 1797 closely after Mozart’s K. 452 of 1784 for the same instrumentation and in the same key. Both composers wrote with themselves in mind as the keyboard player. Beethoven melded the traditional serenade-like sonority of the winds with his own innovative piano style. It is in three movements. A long, slow and measured introduction leads into the first movement in which each of its three themes is presented by the piano before being taken up by the winds. A long phrased melody, introduced by the piano, dominates the slow movement. Beethoven toys with keys, embellishes the theme along with added countermelodies and adds contrapuntal touches. Expectations of a standard rondo form are tweaked in the bubbly and vivacious finale.

Pianist Faliks was joined by oboist Ashley Barret, clarinetist Kelly Burke, bassoonist Carol Bernstorf, and Bob Campbell on horn, all principals of their sections in the Greensboro Symphony. The balance between the keyboard and the wind players as a group and individually was excellent. Kaliks’ beaming expression reflected her evident joy at the give and take between the players. Her refined tone, phrasing, and care for rhythm were models of Beethoven style. What a broad palette of color was evident as each instrument either paired with the piano, blended with one or more winds, or acted as a wind quartet! Intonation was excellent and each player played with enthusiasm and complete technical mastery.

Schubert’s Trio in E-flat, D. 897 is rarely heard in concert. It was published posthumously by Anton Diabelli in 1845 as Op. 148 with the spurious nickname “Nocturne.” On the autograph score, Schubert wrote “Adagio” while “nocturne” was added by an unknown hand. The paper is the same as he used for the Piano Trio in E-flat, D. 929 and the fresh copy for Die Winterreise. These, plus the earlier Piano Trio in B-flat, D. 898, were composed around the same time leading many to date the “Nocturne” to 1827 and widespread speculation it might have been a rejected slow movement for the earlier B-flat trio. Its music seems to anticipate the heavenly slow movement of the great Quintet in C, D. 956, while the future quintet’s finale is hinted at by the nocturne’s use of pizzicato. Documentation is weak for the theory that Schubert took the melody from a pile driver crew’s work song in Gmunden in the lake country east of Salzburg. A vigorous central section is surrounded with a serene slow melody.

Faliks was joined by music director Dmitri Sitkovetsky on violin and cellist Brooks Whitehousefrom the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the Winston-Salem Symphony. Faliks’ fine rolling arpeggio chords were followed by the seraphic blended sound of the strings spinning out an almost timeless melody. Intonation, dynamics, and phrasing were perfect. Balance was remarkably equal during the turbulent middle section, while the return of the ethereal song was as immaculate as before.

The suite Gaspard de la Nuit is one of the most challenging works in the solo-piano repertoire. Solo works are rare in this series but the presence of Faliks, who so clearly has the “chops” (and then some), it was a real treat to hear this rarely performed work live.

Ravel aimed to surpass the difficulty of Islamey (1869) by Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) which out-Liszts Liszt! Ravel was inspired by three poems, “Ondine,” “Le Gibet,” and “Scarbo” by Aloysius Bertrand whose vivid imagery was a forerunner of the Symbolist movement. Ondine is a sea sprite and her story parallels the plot of Dvořák’s Rusalka. The melody emerges within a rhythmic-harmonic motive and reappears “again and again enveloped in variegated swirls of glistening arpegiated arabesques” (John Gillespie: Five Centuries of Keyboard Music). “Le Gibet” portrays a corpse swinging from a gibbet, looking reddened in the setting sun. The atmosphere is maintained by Ravel’s use of “a repeated octave B-flat,” suggesting a death bell, surrounded by a mournful melody based upon seventh and ninth chords. “Scarbo” depicts a grotesque dwarf, like something out of the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. It is a fantastic scherzo in which two themes, one powerfully rhythmic and a second, gay and dance like, are given glittering, pedal-to-the-metal treatment before fading to a whisper of sound.

Like her GSO opening night performance of her encore (Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations), Faliks kept listeners in open mouth wonder with her seemingly magical keyboard wizardry. From my seat I could not see the abundance of crossed hands listeners were commenting about as they left after her repeated curtain calls. Her palette of refined color, dynamics, and tone were breathtaking. I hope to hear her in future GSO seasons. She has recorded the Ravel on MRS Classics Records (B002AH970Q).

As part of the Greensboro Symphony Guild‘s outreach, a large contingent of string players from Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, under the direction of Veronica Allen, played in the lobby before the concert. It is good to see music in the public schools getting strengthened.

Full Review

Classical Voice of North Carolina

by William Thomas Walker

The stage of the newly rechristened University of North Carolina Greensboro Auditorium was packed with extra musicians for a substantial and richly satisfying program sandwiching a Russian concerto with French masterpieces. Greensboro Symphony Orchestra music director Dmitri Sitkovetsky coupled the ever popular Second Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) with three of the major works of French Impressionism by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). This final program of the season will be repeated on Saturday.

Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales opened the concert. The original piano version was premiered anonymously in 1911. It was an homage to Franz Schubert’s collection of waltzes published 1823. The seven waltzes, followed by an epilogue, are dominated by 3/4 time and combined lilting rhythms with sharp dissonances. The complex seventh waltz features intricate cross-rhythms, a binary super-imposed over the basic waltz pulse. He orchestrated it in 1912. Sitkovetsky brought out all the harsh brashness of the first waltz which skirts, or is suggestive of, free atonality. The quiet, hushed, simple beauty of the second waltz was perfectly spun out. The well-sprung syncopation of the third featured a fine oboe solo while gorgeous woodwind interplay dominated the fourth. The short fifth waltz featured a glowing duet between oboe and English horn. Sitkovetsky sustained clarity throughout the tricky sixth waltz and he brought out the Viennese Strauss qualities of the seventh.

A rousing performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18, came next. The work was critical to the composer’s career, marking his recovery from a creative block and depression following the failure of his First Symphony. It is dedicated to his doctor, Nikolai Dahl, whose prolonged use of hypnosis cured the composer. The swift and widespread success of the concerto’s 1900 premiere marked a major turning point in the composer’s personal life as well as in his creative style. Inna Faliks‘ performance was anything but routine. She had more than enough upper body strength to hold her own against the composer’s full, plush orchestration. The highlight of her performance was the wonderful intimate chamber music quality her performance of the nocturne-like second movement with its dialogue between keyboard and woodwinds. There was no want of bravura in the finale. Sitkovetsky provided a consummate accompaniment, giving full rein to the rich tapestry of melodies while carefully balancing with his soloist. Every section of the orchestra gave their all.

The hearty standing ovation was rewarded by Faliks’ jaw-dropping performance of the Variations on a Theme by Corelli, Op. 42 by Rachmaninoff. Has anyone since Domenico Scarlatti packed a piece with so many passages featuring crossed hands or independent fingerings? I could not help but think of all the implications of the word “prestidigitation” as I watched her “handiwork” in disbelief.

Intermission was followed by as fine a live performance of Debussy’s La Mer that I can recall hearing. Sitkovetsky’s interpretation was stylistically masterful and all sections of the orchestra played the socks off their parts. The subtle control of a remarkably broad palette of color was marvelous. The five French horns and four trumpets were beautifully gauged. The rich sound of the low strings, especially the violas and cellos, was pleasing as was the focused intonation of the violins’ high notes.

The concert ended with an equally strong performance of Suite No. 2 for orchestra from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. The wonderful flute solo was floated magically by Debra Reuter-Pretta. A bird song was beautifully conjured by the flute section that included that rare bird, the alto flute. The expanded percussion section brought out plenty of character with its hints of the Far East. The important violin solo was gorgeously played by guest concertmaster Hal Grossman.

The concert proper was preceded by a heartening sampling of the Greensboro Symphony Guild‘s educational outreach. The strings from North Guilford High School were joined onstage by GSO players under the baton of Sandra Rathbone. They played “March Slav” by Tchaikovsky, “Pavane” by Fauré, and the “Bacchanale” from Saint-Saёns’ opera Samson et Dalila. Performances were promising and there was a good turnout of proud parents and relatives.

Rush to get a ticket for this outstanding program and performance! See the sidebar for details on Saturday’s repeat concert.

Full Review

El Norte

by Gabriel Rangel
[translated by Google]

Music and poetry are two artistic manifestations that usually combine well, complementing each other. 

Proof of this was given by the Ukrainian Inna Faliks in her first recital at the International Piano Festival Beethoven Hall. 

With “Godai”, by the Brazilian Clarice Assad, she not only displayed her talent on the octaves, but also, and simultaneously, recited a poetry by the American Steven Schroeder during the second and third movements. 

And not only there the lyricism of the evening arose, also at other times, as in the second movement, andante espressivo, of the Third Sonata for piano Op. 5 in F minor, by the German Johannes Brahms, with which he started the program, O well; in “Le Gibet” of “Gaspard de la Nuit”, by Frenchman Maurice Ravel.

In both, and throughout the concert, she showed a great pianistic temperament, wide sonority and precision in the attack of notes in works, all of high technical demand. In short, a concert pianist of great level, dedicated to her musical work. 

In addition to the above, she also performed the “Fantasia” in D minor K. 397, by the Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, where only certain unusual accents were criticizable; and “Basso Ostinato”, by Russian Rodion Shchedrin. 

The attendees, who occupied only two-thirds of the lower part of the San Pedro Auditorium, gave a warm applause and Faliks returned, in case everything had already been interpreted so little, to offer encore a piece of bravery: Estudio No.3, S. 140, “La Campanella”, by the Hungarian Franz Liszt.

Full Review

Inna Faliks Elevates Classical Piano With Prose

Check out 27east‘s new profile of Inna Faliks and Music/Words:

A classical pianist’s work is often very lonely, Inna Faliks says. It is not nearly as social as string orchestras, or even quartets, nor as open to variation without wearing the label of “avant-garde” for an audience that is succinctly niche.

Yet when the Ukrainian-born musician began melding her art with spoken word by both well-known and up-and-coming poets, she created her own form of expression that is not only original but also approachable.

Ms. Faliks calls it “Music/Words”—and she is the “Speaking Pianist,” as well as a professor and a mother.

“I don’t think so much about tradition anymore. I think of myself as a powerful pianist,” explains Ms. Faliks, who will return to the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill on Friday to play a concert, as part of the Salon Series. “I don’t have any borders. There is nothing that I look at and say, ‘That’s too difficult.’”

Read the full article here!

Inna Faliks Elevates Classical Piano With Prose

Check out 27east‘s new profile of Inna Faliks and Music/Words:

A classical pianist’s work is often very lonely, Inna Faliks says. It is not nearly as social as string orchestras, or even quartets, nor as open to variation without wearing the label of “avant-garde” for an audience that is succinctly niche.

Yet when the Ukrainian-born musician began melding her art with spoken word by both well-known and up-and-coming poets, she created her own form of expression that is not only original but also approachable.

Ms. Faliks calls it “Music/Words”—and she is the “Speaking Pianist,” as well as a professor and a mother.

“I don’t think so much about tradition anymore. I think of myself as a powerful pianist,” explains Ms. Faliks, who will return to the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill on Friday to play a concert, as part of the Salon Series. “I don’t have any borders. There is nothing that I look at and say, ‘That’s too difficult.’”

Read the full article here!

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

  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