in: Reviews

November 3, 2009

Fliter’s Jordan Hall Debut Technically Brilliant, Short on Songfulness

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Chopin Valse brillante in Ab, Op. 34, No. 1; Waltz in a, Op. posth.; Waltz in Ab, Op. posth.; Waltz in e, Op. posth.; Waltz in Eb, Op. posth.; Waltz in Ab, Op. 42, Op. posth.

Schumann Études symphoniques, Op. 13 (including the five posthumous variations)

encores

Chopin Grande valse brillante in Eb, Op. 18

Chopin Waltz in Db, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute” or “Le petit chien”

The durable and popular Celebrity Series of Boston is in its 71st season, which makes it a generation younger than NEC’s familiar Jordan Hall. Venue and series alike have long launched new careers into view in Boston, so the medium-size audience welcomed 36- year-old Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter with a warmth that appeared to derive as much from the comfort of that known phenomenon, a well-publicized Jordan Hall début, as from the press preceding her arrival in Boston.

With minimal fuss, Ms. Fliter played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 in Eb, Op. 31, No. 3 “Die Jagd” (The Hunt) without theatrical gestures and with a respect for the score that remained her most winning trait throughout this full program. Her approach, whether to this sunny work’s astonishingly crisis-free faster passages or to its many pastoral langours, was invariably nuanced, elegant, and tasteful. The Hamburg Steinway D, its tail curiously angled upstage to allow listeners a fuller view than usual of “the hands,” spoke rather more to the right side of the hall than is usual in piano recitals, which favored left-hand listeners with a paler impression of the piano, and thus of this pianist’s sound, than they may have been expecting.

There followed Ms. Fliter’s diverse collage of six mostly posthumous Chopin waltzes (Valse brillante in Ab, Op. 34, No. 1; Waltz in a, Op. posth.; Waltz in Ab, Op. posth.; Waltz in e, Op. posth.; Waltz in Eb, Op. posth.; Waltz in Ab, Op. 42, Op. posth). The predominance of flat or natural keys was a treat, an opportunity to savor a gentle, at times buttery palette that was in marked contrast with glittering sharp-key angles. The top and middle registers of the piano were entirely magical, reliably allowing Ms. Fliter to summon forth pianissimi and gossamer shimmers that concert grands do not usually produce. The lower reaches of the keyboard, however, emitted chill clangor, even brutality, when the score called for full chordal textures. Individual bass notes were at times very beautiful, as were mezzoforte and piano soundscapes, but the congested, undifferentiated timbral resources available for bigger textures impeded Ms. Fliter’s expressive, unfettered dynamics.

The massive second half was Schumann’s encyclopedic, swirling Études symphoniques, Op. 13. This is a forward-seething collage of harmonic and thematic vignettes that, for all their vastness and complexity, always bear along the small, bright flame of the main theme and of certain motifs. In addition to the Études that survived Schumann’s 17-year recasting of the big work, Ms. Fliter played the five “posthumous” variations re-inserted by Johannes Brahms in 1873. Including these non-études gentles the imposing formality of the piece; these pastel interludes only heighten the titanism of the rest. Ingrid Fliter brought all this off with great sweep and emphatically symphonic power, leaving the listener with an unaccustomed architectural sense of landscape and irresistible propulsiveness, but she did not evoke lyrical songfulness where it is so very often called for. She left the audience with two encores (Grande valse brillante in Eb, Op. 18 and Waltz in Db, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute” or “Le petit chien”), a pair of tried and true Chopin waltzes whose disappointingly hammered left-hand fortes and accelerandi, for some listeners, no doubt dismantled a good bit of the fine impression she had made in honoring Robert Schumann’s epic vision.

Christopher Greenleaf is a veteran recording engineer who collaborates with chamber, early, and keyboard musicians in natural acoustic venues on both sides of the Atlantic. He is active as a writer, translator, photographer, and acoustic consultant.

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