Polonaise in C minor, Op.26/1
Ballade in A flat, Op.47
Waltz in C sharp minor, Op.64/2
Grande valse brillante, Op.34/1
Nocturne in B, Op.62/1
24 Preludes, Op.28 – No.8 in F sharp; No.17 in A flat
Scherzo in B flat minor, Op.31
Mazurkas – in E minor, Op.41/1; in D, Op.33/2; in A minor, Op.59/1
Piano Sonata in B minor, Op.58
Janina Fialkowska (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 25 May, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Janina Fialkowska has overcome cancer of her left-arm (the tumour discovered in January 2002) and has been playing two-handed again since early 2004. This was her first recital in the UK since those career-threatening times. Closely associated with Chopin, her allegiance to this composer for this (being filmed) recital showed her sympathies for this music.
Fialkowska sports a nice line in emotional identity and integrity for the score. The opening Polonaise revealed turbulence and revolutionary fervour, a proudly nationalistic account (Canadian Fialkowska has a Polish father) laced with rapt sensitivity as required. One quality throughout her recital was that not a note seemed premeditated. Yet the positive impression of the opener did not always hold good. Some parts of the Ballade were muddled, and the B flat minor Scherzo had its messy moments, yet there was authority too, an integrity that could also be considered literal in phrasal terms; and, whether a consequence of her illness or not, a tendency for the left-hand to be at times unequal to the more-prominent right. Her feeling for the music was never in doubt, nor her variety of touch, colour and dynamics; if things got splashy there could be a compensatory glitter and rubato seemed of the moment rather than coldly calculated. The Mazurkas can be more elusive than here and the Waltzes were outgoing (those played as encores went to extremes – the first was annihilated at a blurring speed to a coda of near-disaster, the second meltingly beautiful and from the heart).
Maybe a whole evening of Chopin was a little too much, for Fialkowska is a somewhat within-parameters interpreter, and playing a couple of Preludes from a set that demands wholeness was not such a good idea. The B minor Sonata was relatively small-scale and not just because of the missing exposition repeat; rather it was cut from too-similar cloth, a no-nonsense directness that emphasised Fialkowska’s respect for the score – if not without sensitivity – but without those moments of expansiveness that can open-out the expression to exclusive worlds. As in other pieces, some technical difficulties seemed unfortunate. Premature applause, after the first movement cut into Fialkowska’s concentrated designs and begged the question as to why some people intercede in this way – if you don’t the piece, keep out of the way; if you do, please appreciate the larger possibilities – here the pianist clearly wished to pass attacca into the second movement.
But this was Fialkowska’s evening, a somewhat contradictory one interpretatively, a pianist who underlined without exaggeration the harmonic twists of this particular Nocturne, and whose Chopin recordings are gracing the ATMA Classique catalogue. Hers is a story worth telling and here her focus and lack of ostentation allowed Chopin (a slightly restricted) star-billing.