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CD booklet
Chopin Recital 3

MusicWeb International
October 24, 2017

If you merely read Janina Fialkowska’s sleeve notes for this CD, you would have no idea of the almost superhuman strength of character, and sheer guts of this half-Canadian, half-Polish performer. In fact, in a number of interviews, Fialkowska had said that she would prefer not to bring up something truly devastating that happened back in 2002.

At that time the pianist had developed a cancerous growth on the muscle of her left arm, which necessitated major surgery to remove this, rendering her initially unable even to lift her arm to the keyboard. As she said, her fingers were fine still, but she had no control of the arm. After years of painstaking rehabilitation, she eventually regained control of the movement in her left arm, and, as early as 2010, had completed her first season with some sixty engagements in North America and Europe. By 2013 Fialkowska had won the Best Instrumental CD Award at the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Awards with her critically-acclaimed CD ‘Chopin Recital 2’—something that seemed hard to believe, even though Rubinstein, who had helped her early career, and had, at that time, described her as a “born Chopin interpreter”, given the almost insurmountable intervening health issue she suffered.

Now sixty-six, Fialkowska has released a follow-up CD to the earlier successful issue, with a view, she says, to adding a fourth at some future juncture. With the plethora of Chopin CDs out there, she has wisely followed suit in terms of programme-planning for ‘Recital 3’, and there is once more a theme running, if not a tad loosely, through the ten tracks on the disc. It is built around some of Chopin’s late works—the Fourth Ballade, Fourth Scherzo, Third Impromptu, and, perhaps most crucially, the composer’s very last major work, the Polonaise-Fantaisie which opens proceedings, and which always tends to encourage speculation over the direction in which Chopin’s compositional genius was heading before his so untimely demise. Even the ultra-progressive Liszt found the work ‘unfathomable’.

From the outset the recording quality is excellent, and finely captures the virile piano sound right across the dynamic range. It is evident throughout all of this superb playing that the music comes first—the finely-honed and flawless technique is always there when called upon, but it’s more what poured from Chopin’s soul that we’re really hearing here. The ‘scotch-snaps’ at the start of the Polonaise-Fantaisie are despatched in a business-like fashion, as is the first instance where the typical polonaise-rhythm appears, but this finely complements the freer and more melodically-questioning sections that follow, as if we are almost seeing an unfolding of the composer’s life before us, something to which Fialkowska alludes, and which is clearly part of her plan in putting this quite enigmatic work across. But once the music builds to a climax as the main theme thunders out, here is Chopin in all his glory, triumphant to the end, and so typical of the soul, spirit and persona of the nation that he inherited from his mother’s side.

In the B major Nocturne Fialkowska has captured precisely the scherzando (playful) marking—something seemingly rather bizarre for a piece that would usually tend to suggest the calm of night, at least at its start. This she does simply by applying the instruction more to the chosen tempo itself, than any stylistic aspect as such. There is tremendous contrast in the turbulent middle section, and it becomes more and more apparent that, in fitting in the various right-hand fioriture or decorations, Fialkowska actually has an advantage, acquired, perhaps, at the time when her left arm was returning to more or less normal function: it seems better suited to providing a solid, yet still shapely-enough platform from which to launch any right hand fireworks. Her treatment of the following F sharp major Nocturne is cast in much the same mould, with that enviable knack of keeping the interpretation essentially conventional (seemingly), while adding some little personal nuances of touch and rhythmic inflection that mark it as more individually conceived.

In the G flat Impromptu that follows, Fialkowska demonstrates another trait that only the truly-gifted artist possesses—the ability to make a piece that presents a significant, yet not overtly technical challenge to the performer appear nothing more than a delightfully fanciful and, as it says on the tin, piece of improvisation, despatched with consummate ease.

Chopin’s set of Waltzes basically comprises some extremely brisk examples, some at a more leisurely pace, and some where the tempo indication is marked Lento, or ‘slow’. Fialkowska’s next offering, the Waltz in B minor is mid-range in terms of speed, and is thus marked Moderato. There has to be a degree of freedom in defining a ‘moderate’ tempo—would it be ‘moderate’ in terms of Chopin’s lifetime, where a galloping horse would represent extreme speed, or a jet aircraft in terms of today’s world? Fialkowska’s performance here is taken at a really slow pace, her version coming out at 4:23, whereas Garrick Ohlsson and Stephen Hough, for example, on the Hyperion label, manage somewhat quicker timings of 3:36 and 2:41 respectively. Whereas Hough’s version does allude to the sadder, wistful nature of this minor-key piece, something which Ohlsson takes a step or so further, Fialkowska really stamps her interpretation with great individualism and genuine heartbreak here, which works in performance, though some listeners might find it a tad overdone for a piece the composer intended to be played ‘at a moderate speed’. That she brings it off, of course, is a tribute to her understanding, insight, and commitment.

Moreover, there are lots of different editions of the B minor Waltz out there, all with variants in the score, especially in the major-key middle section. For the most part these usually involve the right hand melody being played as a single line, or with a lower part a third apart, and replacing some dotted rhythms with evenly-spaced quavers (eighth-notes) which can make things sound slightly pedestrian. Here Fialkowska does nothing unexpected, but ( especially if you’ve ever played the piece) you will get quite a jolt around at around 2:48, where she introduces a D sharp in the melody and G sharp in the bass on the first beat of the bar, and which, from the purely personal standpoint, rather seems to upset the composer’s delicate harmonic balance as he returns from B major to the original B minor. The edition used for the present CD isn’t cited unfortunately, as it would be interesting to know the source of this apparent harmonic volte-face.

However, there’s nothing as untoward in the Waltz in A flat which follows. Cast in the composer’s scintillating virtuoso waltz-style of writing, Fialkowska’s playing is more than equal to the challenge, and her technical control is flawless throughout. Again this is still very much her own interpretation, with an idiosyncratic, though still effective use of rubato at times. But this always seems so perfectly natural, and is felt nowhere more effectively than in the run-up to the quite breath-taking coda.

Unlike the first three of Chopin’s Scherzi, the fourth in E, which is the only one in a major key, is more light-hearted in conception—in as much as that can be said about any large-scale work by the composer. That said, it is still not devoid of great lyricism, but it is not as impassioned, for example, in its middle section, as its predecessors. Fialkowska’s performance is quite superb here. Again, she brings her perceptive feel for effective rubato even to the most complex passages of piano-writing, and her technical command is second-to-none throughout. The way in which she plays the final ascending scale, with such a judicious use of the sustaining pedal, is altogether the mark of a true craftsperson.

The extremely short Prelude in E flat minor—like its equally-demonic counterpart that serves as the finale of the Sonata in B flat minor—is one of those few examples in the composer’s output where melody, as such, would seem to take a backseat to pure rhythmic drive. The danger is to cast it off as quickly as possible, as a mere jumble of notes without any clearly-defined shape. There is a ‘melody’, but first you have to find it—and not every performer does, or perhaps can. By comparison, the Prelude in D flat, affectionately known as the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude is about as far removed from the E flat Prelude as it could possibly be with, as Fialkowska comments, one of Chopin’s most beautiful melodies. A tendency sometimes encountered here is that, in order to make the nickname more apparent to the listener—the constantly-repeated A flats, that become G sharp in the middle section in the minor - can become something more like water-torture, than mere droplets of rain. For Fialkowska it is more about the melody—and rightly so, of course—while still imbued with some touchingly-effective rubato along the way.

The CD ends with, to quote the performer’s assessment again, one of the greatest piano works of all time. It has always figured as a test-piece for the highest piano diplomas and, as such, rates similarly with professional soloists, and especially those who favour the Romantic repertoire. The main problem is that, in just a piece of some ten minutes, it has almost everything conceivable in terms of texture, pianism, formal structure—and, tantalizingly, some of the most challenging passages out there, interwoven with sections an accomplished amateur could almost make a fair stab at...

However, if there is any one part that sorts the true Chopin interpreter from the Chopin player, then it’s the coda. Once again it echoes the kind of seemingly melodic chaos of the Prelude in E flat minor, but which once again does make real melodic sense once the would-be performer knows where to seek it out. Unsurprisingly Fialkowska knows exactly where to look, what to bring out at any one point and in which hand, and how to build for a stunningly effective climax and close without running out of steam. Add this to the wonderfully lyric and expressive playing that has led up to this final section, and you have a tremendous performance of an elusive piece that, in this playing, combines both real intimacy with the grandest of gesture—an individual interpretation that could barely fail to convince, enthral, and excite any listener or pianist, irrespective of their personal take on how Chopin should be played.

Chopin Recital 3 is certainly not just another CD of some of the composer’s best-loved works. It is a unique investigation and subsequent realisation of them, seen through the eyes of a pianist who possesses a genuine insight into the mind of the composer—perhaps all the more so because of their shared part-nationality, and life experiences.

Rubinstein’s astute assessment would certainly seem to be borne out by the exceptional playing on this CD, and hopefully it might be a case of third time lucky for Janina Fialkowska, when the next set of awards and honours come out.

Philip R Buttall - MusicWeb International


September 17, 2017

While the works chosen for this Chopin Recital are programmes to ensure maximum contrast of mood and emotion, a unified trajectory nevertheless makes itself felt, possibly through subtle key relltionships from one selection to the next. Perharps this was intentional on Janina Fialkowska's part, since her seasoned musicianship and thoughtful virtuosity thouroughly inhabit this music.

Jed Distler - Gramophone

Full review, click HERE

Stereoplay (Germany)
July 20, 2017

“Audiophile CD of the Month” (10 out of 10)

A psychological portrait of a torn soul

Artur Rubinstein, who heard Janina Fialkowska in 1974 for the first time, spontaneously called her a “born Chopin interpreter”. Since then the Canadian (born in 1951) conquered the whole world with her highly intelligent Chopin and Liszt playing. Her first two Chopin albums, released in 2010 and 2012 received euphoric reviews worldwide. Now, a third recital, dedicated to Chopin’s later works has been released and it plunges even deeper into the depths of the Polish piano revolutionary, who in a few years fundamentally changed and refined the pianistic technique, the palette of sound colors and his instrument’s catalogue of compositional forms.

Chopin’s highly complex later works, in which clearly defined characters of the various categories loosen up more and more, forms in a way the thematic foundation of the album with the experimental Polonaise-Fantaisie, the fourth Scherzo and the fourth Ballade, complemented by smaller forms such as nocturnes, waltzes and preludes into a poetic “dream” journey, which captivates one immediately in a wondrous way. Through Fialkowska’s charismatic power of storytelling this is compressed into a story, into a seismogram of Chopin’s soul in his last years.

It is amazing, how one can furnish such a personal selection of different pieces with such an inner “logic”. Bravura, pathos and perfume are completely alien to Fialkowska, rigorously she aims to the human truths behind all the splendor, to the islands of deep melancholy and the small and big outbursts of desperation, which she models with startling straightforwardness, also in the often neglected left hand’s “counter world”. Her dynamics are dramatic and her tempo variations are from another, sensitive world.

But what impresses most is the simple, natural, almost naked poetry of her sound, which combines in a wondrous way warmth with clarity, feeling with intellect, breathing and outline without frills. Fialkowska creates for the listener a feeling that she is playing only for him or her.

The Polonaise-Fantaisie, forward-looking, enigmatic and harmonically bold, Chopin’s last stroke of a genius, becomes through her a highly differentiated psychological portrait of a torn soul undulating between pain, hope and desperation. And in this way, she also gets, with an unerring instinct, to their poetic core of the smaller pieces: an album that captivates and won’t let you go.

Attila Csampai - Stereoplay (Allemagne)
Full review in German, click HERE 

English translation : Harry Oesterle 

Augsburger Allgemeine
July 7, 2017

(5 Sterne von 5)

Chapeau für diesen Chopin

Zum dritten Mal bündelt die Pianistin Janina Fialkowska ihre lebenslange Auseinandersetzung mit Chopin in einem CD-Recital. Besonders souverän tritt die intime Kennerschaft diesmal in der Interpretation der Polonaise-Fantasie hervor, jener ungemein dichten letzten Klavierkomposition Chopins. Überlegen spannt Fialkowska hier den Bogen des Geschehens, jede noch so unscheinbare Phrase hat ihren Sinn, und nichts erscheint dabei gewollt herausgehoben oder künstlich mit Bedeutung beladen. Die nahe Augsburg lebende kanadische Pianistin kombiniert in ihrem Recital weitere Oeuvre-Schwergewichte wie die 4. Ballade und das 4. Scherzo mit Kompakterem wie (jeweils zwei) Nocturnes, Walzern und Préludes. Auch hier entstehen unter Fialkowskas Händen Perlen an Natürlichkeit und Eleganz, und einmal mehr staunt man über den untrüglichen Sinn der Interpretin für pianistische Elastizität auf kleinstem Raum – der Kardinaltugend jeglichen Chopin-Spiels.

Stefan Dosch - Augsburger Allgemeine

English Translation:

(5 stars out of 5)

Chapeau for this Chopin

It’s the third time that pianist Janina Fialkowska consolidates her live-long examination of Chopin in a CD recital. This time in a very commanding way, this intimate connoisseurship emerges in the interpretation of the “Polonaise-Fantaisie”, this tremendously dense last composition of Chopin.

With superiority she demonstrates the entire spectrum of events: even the most inconspicuous phrase has its sense and nothing appears intentionally emphasized or loaded with artificial meaning.

The pianist who lives close to Augsburg combines in her recital more heavyweights like the “Fourth Ballade” and the “Fourth Scherzo” with more compact pieces like -two of each- nocturnes, waltzes and preludes. Also here under Fialkowska´s hands pearls of naturalness arise and once again one marvels at the performer´s unerring instinct for pianistic elasticity in the smallest space – the cardinal virtue of any Chopin playing.


July 6, 2017


Quoi dans l’œuvre de Chopin de plus insaisissable, et de plus musicalement difficile, que la Polonaise-fantaisie ? Rien. Je connais pléthore de pianistes qui s’y cassent les doigts (mais surtout l’art) dès les premiers accords. On n’entre pas ici par force, mais par éloquence. Et puis ensuite cela divague, ton de ballade, polonaise remémorée, mais esseulée, un grand nocturne sans fin qui erre et ne veut pas finir : si l’on n’est pas poète, si on ne parle pas « le Chopin », on y comprend rien.

Sauvée d’une longue maladie, Janina Fialkowska revient à Chopin, source de son art, et chacun des disques qu’elle lui consacre est une renaissance. Dans ce troisième récital, elle herborise chez Chopin tout ce qui se rapproche de cette Polonaise-fantaisie qui ouvre son disque : le discours clair, ardent, et pourtant cette angoisse qui progressivement cède devant une sorte de musique de l’infini, si ce n’est pas la grâce !

Tout en découlera, Nocturnes-noctuelles immenses, Quatrième Scherzo fuligineux, Valses lentes à dissoudre leurs rubans (avec une étrangeté dans celle en si mineur), Impromptu en sol bémol perdu dans ses divagations, deux Préludes mesurés pour se terminer par une des plus parfaites Quatrième Ballade que j’ai jamais croisées.

Ce Chopin évident, désarmant de naturel, porté par un si beau jeu de clavier où chantent de vrais chanteurs de bel canto est comme venu d’un autre âge, celui des Cortot, des Lortat, des Rubinstein – un éden qui réconforte, une thérapie par le son.

Jean-Charles Hoffelé - Artamag

June 26, 2017

Highly sensitive Chopin interpretations

For her 3rd recital with works by Frédéric Chopin, Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska once again put together a coherent program which begins with a very thoughtful presentation of the Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61. And this thoughtfulness remains a constant of her interpretation during a large part of the program with two Nocturnes, two Waltzes, an Impromptu, two Préludes.

Even in the contrast-rich 4th Scherzo this pensiveness is expressed in the middle section after a rather lively beginning, and before the playfulness prevails once again. And then with the barely half-minute long Prélude op. 28/14, she clears the table disquietingly from all drama and returns with great sensitivity to the core of Chopin’s music, which is exactly the reflectiveness and poetry where within, dark thoughts could also be mixed, as Fialkowska shows with a willful sense of rhythm in the Prélude op. 28 Nr. 15.

The opposition of thoughtful, intimate and effervescent passages before the almost hectic coda gives the 4th Ballade a lot of expressive power. A beautiful, highly sensitively interpreted program.

Remy Franck - Pizzicato
English Translation: Harry Oesterle

Original version in German
Die kanadische Pianistin Janina Fialkowska hat auch für ihr 3. Recital mit Werken von Frédéric Chopin ein kohärentes Programm zusammengestellt, das mit einer sehr reflektiven Darstellung der Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61 beginnt. Und dieses Reflektive bleibt während eines großen Teils des Programms eine Konstante der Interpretation, in den zwei ‘Nocturnes’, zwei Walzern, einem ‘Impromptu’, zwei ‘Préludes’. Sogar im kontrastreichen 4. Scherzo kommt nach dem hier besonders quirligen Beginn diese Nachdenklichkeit im Mittelteil zum Ausdruck, ehe das Verspielte wieder Oberhand gewinnt. Und dann wischt das knapp halbminütige ‘Prélude’ op. 28/14 etwas unwirsch jede Dramatik vom Tisch, und die Pianistin kehrt mit großer Sensibilität zum Kern der Chopin-Musik zurück, eben zu dem Reflektiven, dem Poetischen, in das sich durchaus auch dunkle Gedanken mischen können, wie Fialkowska mit einer eigensinnigen Rhythmik im ‘Prélude’ op. 28 Nr. 15 zeigt. Die Opposition von reflektiven, intimen und aufbrausenden Passagen vor der fast hektischen Coda gibt der 4. Ballade viel Ausdruckskraft. Ein schönes, hoch sensibel gedeutetes Programm! 

The WholeNote
May 31, 2017

Janina Fialkowska continues her Chopin recording project with Chopin Recital 3 (ATMA Classique ACD2 2728). Fialkowska’s discs have proven consistently excellent. Her performances are marked by the welcome maturity that artists of her stature need as a hallmark of their career. Finding the “sweet spot” in a performance is what the creative quest is about. What seasoned performers know is that the “spot” is not where you last found it. It lies at the intersection of the performer’s awareness of self and their deepest awareness of the composer’s voice. This is the place we reliably find Fialkowska in her performances. What alters and enriches her playing is the desire to speak more clearly, more profoundly and more simply. Take, for example, the persistent pulse of the “raindrops” in Prelude in D-flat Major Op.28 No.15. Fialkowska treats this device as if it had true thematic significance. While only a simple rhythmic figure, she turns it into Chopin’s hypnotic, swinging watch while she moves through both turbulence and repose, all the while holding the experience together with a simple pulse.

It may, in fact, be Fialkowska’s command of the distance between the great heights to which Chopin so often rises and the nearly out of reach places to which he retreats that imbues her playing with such power. The disc’s opening track, Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major Op.61 is an eloquent example of this ability. It’s present in everything she plays and makes this a very collectible series.

Terry Robins - TheWholeNote
April 27, 2017

You wouldn’t guess it from her name, but Janina Fialkowska isn’t actually Polish. You wouldn’t guess from her Chopin either, which is sensitive and supple, always emotive and deeply idiomatic. The Canadian pianist (her father was Polish) has recently come to wider attention for her Chopin interpretations through a series of well-received albums on the ATMA label, making this all-Chopin Wigmore Hall recital a particularly attractive proposition.

There is a directness to Fialkowska’s interpretations that is both disarming and immediately engaging. The melody always leads, with the left-hand chords providing texture and background as much as harmonic support. Contrasts – of phrases, sections, dynamics – are duly acknowledged but never exaggerated for dramatic effect. Even her programme avoided the extremes of Chopin’s output: the only Nocturne was one of the most upbeat, the Op. 9/3, and although she presented two scherzos, one of them, No. 4, was a surprisingly relaxed affair.

There were occasional fireworks here, but these were carefully spaced to structure the programme. The first half was organised around the tumultuous Ballade No. 2 and the equally virtuosic F-Minor Fantasie, Op. 49. Fialkowska’s technique here was impeccable, every note precisely placed, but with judicious pedalling to blend together the cascading passages. The finale of the Fantasie was particularly effective for the subtlety with which it was prepared, Fialkowska gradually increasing the dynamic, yet all the time maintaining the warmth of tone and evenness of texture. Between these towering peaks, two waltzes, Opp. 69/2 and 42, presented together as a pair. Here, and in the other dance-based works, the Polonaise, Op. 26/2, and the Three Mazurkas, Op. 50, Fialkowska took surprising liberties with the underlying beat, yet did so with such grace and assurance that the offset rhythms felt entirely natural.

The Fourth Scherzo that opened the second half felt a little underplayed, as if the sheer decorum (a key Chopin virtue) had finally got the better of the music’s emotional thrust. But the Op. 28 Preludes that followed (Nos. 14 and 15) returned us the immediacy and engagement that had characterised the first half. The "Raindrop" Prelude was a highlight, the deep chordal passages of the central section delivered with an intensity and focus, given all the more expressive power by the moderate dynamic.

To conclude, a truly memorable reading of the Scherzo No. 1, Op. 20. Melody again predominated, with Fialkowska providing the ideal balance between discipline and expressive freedom. In the central section, time seemed to stand still, as the harmonic progressions dissolved into pure texture. And then a return of the tumultuous power that Fialkowska keeps in reserve and only rarely sets loose, for a stunning bravura finale.

Gavin Dixon - 

ICI Musique
April 13, 2017

La pianiste canadienne Janina Fialkowska sort un troisième récital consacré à Chopin, sous étiquette Atma. Chopin Recital 3 permet à l’artiste de poursuivre un parcours sans faille dans l’univers profondément poétique et expressif du compositeur.

La Polonaise-fantaisie op. 61, d’une surprenante modernité pour son époque, mais inévitablement touchante de sensibilité, reçoit toutes les nuances voulues. Deux nocturnes, deux valses, un impromptu (l’op. 51), deux préludes (dont celui dit de « la goutte d’eau »), un scherzo empreint de légèreté et, finalement, la fabuleuse Ballade en fa mineur, op. 54; tout cela est magnifiquement équilibré.

Janina Fialkowska, en plus d’être une interprète sensible qui sait toucher au cœur de l’auditeur en insufflant vie et amour dans ces partitions, est assurément une programmatrice intelligente. Elle sait alterner les atmosphères inhérentes à chaque pièce, ce qui évite tout sentiment de monotonie.

En ce sens, la pianiste colle parfaitement à la personnalité riche et panachée de Chopin. Fialkowska dit de ce dernier : Génie poétique, pianiste virtuose, romantique réticent, ironiste intelligent, gentleman impeccable, invalide chronique, ami loyal, professeur bien-aimé, exilé nostalgique, dandy charmeur, innovateur étonnant, patriote passionné, âme aimable : voilà autant de facettes de la personnalité de Chopin.

Il s’agit d’un très beau récital, à l’image des deux précédents et, on le souhaite (mais qui en doute?) du prochain, le quatrième, qu’on nous annonce comme le dernier de la série. On a déjà hâte!

Frédéric Cardin - ICI Musique