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.