Concert Review: Pianist Janina Fialkowska the master of all the Schumann and Chopin she surveys
If there were an advertising flyer for this week's classical music in Toronto, it would have screaming type on the front page that proclaiming:
Janina Fialkowska! Anton Kuerti! Yuja Wang! Haiou Zhang! And More!
It all began this afternoon at Walter Hall with a solo recital by Connecticut-based Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska. The closing concert of the Women's Musical Club of Toronto season was devoted to the 200th anniversary of the births of Robert Schumann (who lived to 1856) and Frédéric Chopin (who died in 1849).
The work of both composer-pianists is at the very core of the classical music repertoire for piano. There isn't a piano student in the world who hasn't attempted pieces by either composer. And even people who aren't fans of classical music have heard something by them.
The prettiness, majesty and passion of this music are there for the audience's pleasure. But the artist's job isn't so easy.
First of all, this music's very popularity is a challenge. The pianist needs to put their own stamp on it, while also respecting a century-and-a-half of performing and recording tradition.
The second challenge is a technical one. In very different ways, the piano music of Schumann and Chopin is technically difficult: Schumann's because of the sheer number of notes that the player has to wrap her fingers around; Chopin's because of the unblinking transparency of his writing -- every false move is glaringly obvious.
The final challenge is mastering the notes, shaping the music without over-dramatizing it, then sitting down to make it sound as fresh and spontaneous as if it were being improvised.
Enter the modest, unassuming Janina Fialkowska, who, without the slightest visible fuss, overcame all these challenges (plus a not particularly charming piano) to deliver more than 90 minutes of spectacularly beautiful music.
It was a substantial programme: a first half devoted to Schumann -- the fantastically difficult Op. 26 Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Vienna Carnival) and the Op. 20 Humoreske. After the intermission, we heard a nicely layered Concert Chopin 101 selection -- a Polonaise, two Waltzes, a Nocturne, two Préludes and the showy B-flat Minor Scherzo.
The sold-out house heard what, to me, was an ideal blend of velvet and steel, every detail attended to, then freed up to sound freshly minted.
This was the piano recital equivalent of the perfect Little Black Dress -- the more elegant for being unobtrusive, yet, on closer inspection, finished with careful attention to every detail.
Fialkowska's nearing the end of a major North American solo recital tour, most of it devoted to her favourite composer, Chopin. Despite the enduring popularity of his music, there aren't many other pianists out there who are as eloquent or memorable advocates.