Friday , June 14 2024
Inna Faliks at National Sawdust
Photo credit: Oren Hope

Concert Review: Pianist Inna Faliks – ‘Manuscripts Don’t Burn’ at National Sawdust

Having read Ukrainian-American pianist Inna Faliks’ vibrant memoir recently, I was pleased to be able to catch the first half of her live show, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn,” Thursday night at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.

I say “show” because this recital-reading is thematically linked to the book, titled Weight in the Fingertips. Between pieces by contemporary composers written for her to celebrate the book, and classical gems by the likes of Bach and Chopin, Faliks read passages from the memoir. It details her personal as well as her professional journey to becoming the musician and pedagogue she is today. The concert also paralleled her new album, also called Manuscripts Don’t Burn.

Her opening anecdote from the memoir situated her in recent times, on an occasion where the game pianist was pressed into singing the Ukrainian national anthem (she’s not a singer) to raise money for Ukraine as it fights off Russia’s invasion.

But this concert’s first piece of music swept us back more than 100 years. “Sirota” by contemporary composer Lyova Zhurbin is scored for piano and a 1907 recording of cantor Gershon Sirota. That singer, known as Odessa’s “Jewish Caruso,” posthumously harmonizes with a recording of Faliks herself. The hypnotic first episode of this piercing composition is built on an eerier minor-key arpeggio motive which later explodes into anger.

In contrast, Faliks went on to infuse Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G sharp Minor, Book 1, with melancholy. Spare, judicious use of the sustain pedal helped affirm a rich, expressive middle ground between originalism harking back to the harpsichord era and the sweeping personalization of someone like Simone Dinnerstein. Yet another reminder that Bach contains multitudes.

Inna Faliks at National Sawdust, Brooklyn NY, 23 May 2024
Faliks’ husband listens as she reads from her memoir a passage about meeting him. (Photo credit: Gail Wein)

Modernism was reasserted with the gritty, impassioned, even thunderous New York premiere of “Psalm for Odessa” by Mike Garson. This impactful piece plays upon our expectations by inserting snatches of a folk song. Faliks then showed off her shimmering dexterity with Franz Liszt’s arrangement of Chopin’s “Maiden’s Wish.” It was a feathery yet assertive account, as glorious as I’ve ever heard.

Rodion Shchedrin’s powerful showpiece “Basso Ostinato,” played with stealth and fury, led into readings from Mikhail Bulgakov’s 1930s novel The Master and Margarita, with which the pianist has had a deep lifelong engagement. Faliks paired these readings with intriguing music scored for piano and speaking pianist from the “Master and Margarita Suite” by Veronika Krausas.

Faliks finished the set with Chopin’s evergreen “Polonaise-Fantasie.” In the best performances of well-known works like this one, a musician (or orchestra) can reveal something different, personal, new to a listener’s ear. This was one of those performances. The pianist infused it with a Russian-style personality and panache. The middle voices sprang to life in the interplay of the left and right hands. And overall the piece gained an aura of abstraction that looked ahead to the 20th century. Truly remarkable.

Manuscripts Don’t Burn, the album, is available now, as is Inna Faliks’ memoir Weight in the Fingertips.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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