Janina Fialkowska press reviews
Courage of a Genius
Chopin e minor with the Royal Philharmonic
... So courageous has been her battle with illness and pain, so unshakeable her determination to return to the stage -- not least to play Chopin -- that one could be forgiven for suspending normal critical judgment. In fact, no such indulgence is necessary.
As she demonstrated in Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jahja Ling (in a programme that also included a somewhat routine Sibelius 2), Fialkowska is by any standards a truly outstanding pianist. The first thing you notice is the gorgeous tone: warm, rounded, belllike in the upper register, rich lower down. It's well supported too, so that forte passages make their effect without discomfort. Characterised by subtle nuances rather than demonstrative gestures, her Chopin is poised, natural and exquisite without any trace of affectation.
We have had many celebrated executants in London in this Chopin anniversary year -- Zimerman, Pollini and Yundi Li among them -- but none has taken my breath away quite like Fialkowska.
If you have the chance to hear her, cancel all other appointments.
Barry Millington, The Evening Standard (London), May 28th, 2010
All-Chopin recital in London
It was not until I heard her play live, however, that I realised quite how extraordinary she is. The long history of performing traditions in Chopin, though extremely varied, tends to move by stealth, with pianists piling further traits on to the practices they have inherited from their teachers and models. Some work, some don't. With Fialkowska, though, you get the impression less that the music is being interpreted than uncovered – as if all the discoloured resins and glues have been removed, everything pulled to pieces and put back together from scratch.
With very light pedal use, some rubato but nothing forced, and a steady emphasis on the music's inner lines that both clarifies Chopin's often exceptionally adventurous harmonies and, ironically, frees up the melody by diverting attention away from it, old warhorses such as the Grande Valse Brillante in A flat, or hardy perennials like the B major Nocturne Op 62, shine with newness.
Guy Dammann, The Guardian (London), May 28th, 2010
Recital for the Frederic Chopin Society in St.Paul, Minnesota
… She closed the Chopin Society season with a dozen of the composer's works, giving a grand tour of his conflicted interior life that became most compelling on one of his rare ventures into more expansive territory.
That would be the B-minor sonata that closed the concert, during which Fialkowska plunged into the depths of Chopin's daunting emotional extremes, particularly on a scherzo suffused with manic agitation that gave way to a sad dance of a largo weighed down by the world's suffering.
The pianist also delivered brief bursts of brilliance in the short works that led up to that climax. A whisper-to-a-scream ballade gave way to a C-sharp minor waltz that may have been instantly familiar to many in the sold-out Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, although it seldom spins at such whirlwind velocity.
Fialkowska made a case that the composer's most cathartic and effusive emotional eruptions may be found in his preludes, with a palpable sense of striving emerging in her interpretations. But a stormy Scherzo No. 2 set her gifts in starkest relief, as she surged up and down the keyboard in tempest-tossed waves. Similar turbulence permeated the finale of the B-minor sonata that closed the concert, inspiring a standing ovation for this emotionally eloquent artist.
Rob Hubbard, Pioneer Press St.Paul, May 3rd, 2010
Ninety minutes of spectacularly beautiful music
"Birthday Boys Recital" in Toronto: Schumann and Chopin
Pianist Janina Fialkowska the master of all the Schumann and Chopin she surveys …
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.
John Terauds (The Toronto Star), TheStar.com, April 29th, 2010