Classical Music Guide Forums - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - Written by Donald Isler

Inna Faliks and Akiko Ebi

Inna Faliks

Beethoven: Fantasy in G Minor, Op. 77
Beethoven: 13 Variations and Fugue, op. 35 “Eroica”
Rodion Shchedrin: Basso Ostinato
Ljova Zhurbin: Sirota, for piano and historical recording
Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-Flat Major, Op. 61
Liszt: Harmonies du Soir
Chopin/Liszt: “Maiden’s Wish”
Paganini-Liszt: La Campanella

Inna Faliks is an attractive young woman and a strong pianist who agreed to give this recital on just a few days’ notice, after another pianist suddenly became unavailable. Her recital was not well-attended, but her audience was enthusiastic, and they heard a very fine concert. She certainly comes from an impressive musical background, with teachers who have included Ann Schein, Leon Fleisher, Gilbert Kalish and Boris Petrushansky.

Ms. Faliks began with the rarely heard Op. 77 Fantasy of Beethoven, which some people believe is the closest we may get to having an idea of what the composer’s improvising sounded like. With many short sections, and key and mood changes it is quite a strange work, indeed. And not an easy one to play. Ms. Faliks started with a dramatic flourish and gave a convincing account. She then turned her attention to the Eroica Variations, a wonderful, major work that is also not often heard. And is also treacherous! Ms. Faliks played the fast variations right up to tempo (even when temptation might lead one to slow down and play it safe, ie. Variation 13), the lighter variations had charm, Variation 8 was quite beautiful, and the fugue was focused, clear and impressive.

Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato was one of the highlights of the program, gymnastic and suggestive with a wide dynamic and expressive range. Ms. Faliks played it to the hilt.

Mr. Zhurbin’s work, Sirota, it turned out, has nothing to do with the pianist Leo Sirota but with Cantor Gershon Sirota of Odessa, where Ms. Faliks was born. Composed for her just last year it ties in with her interest in music with Jewish themes, and Jewish composers. Ms. Faliks explained that Cantor Sirota, who died in Warsaw during World War II, was known as the “Jewish Caruso.” Perhaps there is a story line attached to this work which was not revealed to us beforehand. The piece began with an extended section in which the pianist plays a repeated pattern of D Minor arpeggios in the right hand while playing changing, expressive material in the left hand. Eventually the arpeggios disappear, replaced by more ominous-sounding material and then, all of a sudden, we are hearing a 1911 recording of Cantor Sirota leading a choir in prayers from the Rosh Hashanah service. And then, somewhat surrealistically, the pianist accompanies them. She is making music together with her spiritual and perhaps even her literal forebears from a century ago! Quite a wild idea! Though the effect was exciting, and the material is good, I suspect the timing of starting the recording was a bit off, and, for this listener, the piano was a little bit loud versus the voices, but that was probably not easy to judge from the stage, when playing with speakers that faced out into the audience.

The rest of the program was Romantic music, an obvious strength of this pianist. The Harmonies du Soir was rich and impassioned. The Maiden’s Wish, played a bit faster than one usually hears it, had high spirits. And Ms. Faliks' virtuosity in La Campanella was truly dazzling, reminiscent of great Liszt players like Minoru Nojima.

Ms. Faliks gave one encore, a lovely, poignant performance of the barcarolle, June, from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons.

Akiko Ebi

Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D. 664
Liszt: Funérailles
Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31
Chopin: Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1
Chopin: Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35

According to the program the Japanese pianist, Akiko Ebi, launched her international career in 1975 as winner of the Gran Prix of the International Marguerite Long Competition in Paris, where Arthur Rubinstein awarded her four special prizes. Martha Argerich has been her mentor, and her teachers have included Aldo Ciccolini, Vlado Perlemuter and Louis Kentner. It did not take long to realize why such important musicians have shown an interest in her, or why her audience responds to her with such warmth.

Ms. Ebi began the Chromatic Fantasy with great big swirls and shapes. It was invigorating! The fugue was wonderfully clear, but also showed her sense of structure, especially near the end where she piled on the intensity, and the volume.

Ms. Ebi’s performance of the Schubert Sonata was delightful, full of charm and lightness. It was almost startling to hear her move into music that is so different from what came right before it, and to do it so well. In the last movement of the Schubert Ms. Ebi had the first of several brief memory problems. However, if her memory wasn’t always perfect, her musical instincts were. And her technique is strong.

After concluding the first half with Funérailles, played with great drama, Ms. Ebi moved on to a very successful second half with music of Chopin. A friend had told me she was a fine Chopin player and he was certainly right! The Second Scherzo, which can sound hackneyed, had tension and atmosphere, and the ringing theme over the continuous arpeggios in the left hand was played so well it was like hearing it for the first time. And, isn’t that what musicians are supposed to do with music, especially well-known music, ie. play it so it comes across as a new, fresh experience?

The F Major Nocturne was wonderful, and just about perfect. The middle section surged with drama, and the ending was exquisite.

It was wonderful to hear a terrific artist like this play the Chopin B-Flat Minor Sonata for this audience. The complete silence between movements as the listeners, mostly pianists, awaited what would come next, was in itself impressive. The first movement had plenty of dash, drive and drama. Ms. Ebi’s phrasing and rubato are so natural and right-sounding that she always convinces. Though I’m told she has fairly small hands she played the difficult second movement effectively and, of course, she made something special of the middle section in G-Flat Major.

The silence before the funeral march was something special. The audience knew she would set a spell here, and she did. Even more impressive was the hushed manner in which she returned to it after the middle section. The concluding movement, perhaps one of the strangest things Chopin ever composed, with continuous, threatening parallel octaves leading to a great crash at the end, was powerful.

Ms. Ebi played two encores, a charming Sonata in F Minor by Scarlatti, and the Nocturne in D-Flat Major by Chopin.

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