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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 26th 2016
Janina Fialkowska shines her light on the poetry of Chopin's piano music!
Music Toronto hit a World Series worthy home run last night at the opening night of its 2016/17 piano series at the St. Lawrence Centre with an extraordinary performance by the inspiring Canadian pianist, Janina Fialkowska. For forty-five years Music Toronto has been delivering the finest in chamber music to Toronto audiences. This in and of itself is somewhat of a World Series record. Fialkowska has been on the international concert circuit for almost as long, performing in solo recitals and with major orchestras in all parts of the world.
There is not much that can be added to the accolades that have come to Fialkowska throughout her illustrious career. Currently, she is on a world tour celebrating both her 65th birthday and her lifelong love affair with the music of Fryderyk Chopin.
Fialkowska was just 23 years of age when her prize-winning performance at the inaugural Arthur Rubinstein Master Piano Competition earned her the mentorship of Rubinstein himself, the legendary pianist. Calling her a “born Chopin interpreter”, Rubinstein helped her to gain a foothold in her international career that has spanned four decades. When most other performers might have retired to a more leisurely existence, Fialkowska is on a tour that is taking her to Japan, Germany, Poland, Spain, Israel, Netherlands, Finland, Portugal, Britain, Switzerland and several provinces here in Canada.
Fialkowska’s performance last night demonstrated clearly why she has been lauded for her Chopin interpretations. The poetry of Chopin is evident with every note that she plays. Her artistry comes minus the outward demonstrative excesses that are a part of so many pianists today. Instead it leads the listener into the heart of Chopin’s mind and soul. Her technique is brilliant, but it doesn’t astound for the sake of its own athleticism. Instead, her technique is always at the service of the music. The elegance and warmth in her phrasing is a rare commodity and was on display last night from the first notes executed. There was a gentleness to her lyricism that took one’s breath away and gave the dramatic moments immense impact.
Fialkowska’s programme encompassed a broad range of Chopin’s music with examples from most of his genres including polonaise, nocturne, impromptu, waltz, ballade, scherzo, prelude, and mazurka. It shone light on the full range of emotion in Chopin’s music with wit, charm, joy and tenderness counterbalancing darker emotions of personal tragedy. She began with Chopin’s last-written composition, Polonaise-Fantasie in A Flat, Op.61. Rooted in his Polish heritage, the work probes the composer’s pain in his final years, and yet maintains a positive spirit despite all.
I suspect that each audience member may well have gone home with a favourite from amongst the many smaller works performed. There were examples of very familiar works such as the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude in D flat, No. 15, the Waltz in B minor Op. 69, No. 2 and Three Mazurkas Op. 50. And then there were less familiar works such as his Nocturne in B major, Op. 9, No. 3, an early work that delights with its lilting melodic line, but also comes with its own nightmarish turbulent middle section. For me, it was the Ballade No. 4 in F minor wherein Fialkowska’s inspiring artistry was most evident. Her ability to maintain a poetic elegance and lyricism throughout is indeed, a rarity.
Fialkowska opened and closed the second half of her programme with two of Chopin’s incredibly demanding scherzos. Fialkowska’s range of expression in Scherzo No. 4 in E, Op. 54 and Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 were the highlights of an evening of the most sublime and tasteful music-making imaginable. It is no wonder that Fialkowska has been called “Canada’s first lady of Chopin” and “one of Canada’s finest gifts to the international piano world”.
Music Toronto will continue its Chamber Music Downtown with two concerts in November at the St. Lawrence Centre. The next concert in the string quartet series will feature Quatuor Arthur-LeBlanc on Thursday November 10th at 8pm; the next concert in the piano series will be given by British pianist Danny Driver on Tuesday, November 15th at 8pm.
Janina F alkawska
Photo credit: Julien Faugere