(photo: Fran Kaufman)

My final visit to Wigmore Hall this season (the hall is closed during August) was to hear one of my piano heroes, Canadian pianist and composer Marc-Andre Hamelin. Each of his London concerts I’ve attended has offered coruscating technical facility combined with musical insight and the impression of a thoughtful musician who is very connected to the music he plays. This is in part created through his economy of physical movement when he plays. There are no unnecessary gestures in Hamelin’s playing, no pianistic histrionics or flashy pyrotechnics (except in the music itself), and because he never gets in the way of the music, his performances are concentrated and intense.

This concert was no exception, its intensity made even greater by the inclusion of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, the “Funeral March”, with its third movement theme made so infamous by its associations with the deaths of Russian Communist leaders, and its extraordinary and ghostly finale.

Read my full review here

Marc-André Hamelin, (image credit: Fran Kaufman)
Marc-André Hamelin, (image credit: Fran Kaufman)

Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin has an unerring ability to tackle anything the piano repertoire can throw at him: the craggy, disparate edifice of Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata, Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX, Villa-Lobos’ savage Rudepoema, the mannered classicism of Haydn, and the sweeping romanticism of Liszt. His latest concert, part of his residency at Wigmore Hall in 2013/14, combined peerless technical mastery, cool perfection, pristine beauty and profound musical understanding in a quartet of works by Medtner, Janáček, Ravel and Hamelin himself, with the London première of his own composition. The programme traced a darkly lit narrative from the brooding opening bars of Hamelin’s atmospheric Barcarolle, through the sprawling musical landscapes of Medtner’s Night Wind piano sonata in E minor, inspired by a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, to the poignant intimacy of Janacek’s On an Overgrown Path and the strange night-time fantasies of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.

Read my full review here

(image credit © Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Concerts by Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin are always challenging and exciting: a fearless approach to repertoire and unusual programme juxtapositions, combined with insightful musicianship, all underpinned by formidable technique create some of the most compelling musical experiences, and Hamelin’s latest Wigmore Hall offering was no exception.

Read my full review here

(photo credit: Julien Faugère)

Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska has Polish blood in her veins (her father is Polish), and she was described by her pianistic idol, Arthur Rubinstein, as “a natural born Chopin interpreter”. This assertion was more than confirmed by a carefully executed and beautifully nuanced lunchtime concert of music by Fryderyk Chopin at London’s Wigmore Hall. Read my full review here

Janina Fialkowska has won “Best Instrumen​tal CD Award” in the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Awards for her ‘Chopin Recital’

Pianist Janina Fialkowska wins “Best Instrumen​tal CD Award” in the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Awards for Chopin Recital 2 disc

Pianist Janina Fialkowska, who was left temporarily paralysed in her arm, has won the “Best Instrumental CD of 2012” award in the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Awards for her critically-acclaimed disc “Chopin Recital 2”, released on the ATMA Classique label. Arthur Rubinstein described Fialkowska as “a born Chopin interpreter” and Gramophone Magazine concluded that “she has done her one time mentor, Arthur Rubinstein proud.” The prestigious award comes 10 years after a cancerous tumour left Fialkowska paralysed in her left arm for two years.

BBC Music Magazine commented:

How does she do it? By some mysterious alchemy, Fialkowska only has to perform a note of Chopin and instantly it’s inimitable, indelible.”

Following groundbreaking treatment on her arm in 2003, the highly-respected pianist Janina Fialkowska has determinedly rebuilt her career as a leading international concert pianist. Now 10 years after successful treatment, Canadian-Polish Fialkowska has firmly re-established herself as one of the foremost Chopin interpreters in the world.

The award comes after a remarkably successful year for Fialkowska which included her being awarded the ‘2012 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award’ for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in Classical Music at a ceremony in May. The award is Canada’s most prestigious honour in the performing arts, equivalent to the ‘Kennedy Center Awards’ in the United States.

Fialkowska’s “Chopin Recital 2” CD is the second recording of her critically acclaimed Chopin Recital series given in May 2012. The disc includes Chopin’s Ballade No. 2. Scherzo No. 2 and a selection of Nocturnes, Mazurkas, and Waltzes including Le Grande Valse Brillante. Fialkowska is firmly established as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Chopin and Liszt and has released five celebrated CDs in three years.

Her most recent recording features Mozart’s Piano Concertos No. 13 & 14 (K. 415 & 449) in arrangement for piano quintet, which was released on 29 January 2013 to exceptional reviews. The Financial Times commented “Fialkowska’s crystalline, unsentimentalised treatment of Mozart’s piano writing lends the music a spontaneous fluency that is invigorating.”

Fialkowska’s award follows an all-Chopin lunchtime recital in the Wigmore Hall which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3’s Lunchtime Concert Series (click the link below to listen again). On Thursday 11th April, Fialkowska performs a programme of Chopin Grieg and Schubert at the Sage, Gateshead in aid of the British Red Cross.

[Source: Nicky Thomas Media Consultancy]

My review of Janina Fialkowska’s recent Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert

Read my Meet the Artist interview with Janina Fialkowska

Janina Fialkowska (picture credit: © Julien Faugère / ATMA)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?  

My mother was an ambitious ‘failed’ pianist. She got me started at age four and I enjoyed it from the beginning.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing? 

A few people to be honest; certainly Alfred Cortot to begin with as he was the teacher of not only my mother, but also my teacher in Montreal (Yvonne Hubert…who also taught Louis Lortie and Marc Andre Hamelin!!) and my teacher in Paris, Yvonne Lefebure. I was then associated first as a pupil then as an assistant to the great Russian pedagogue who taught at Juilliard in New York, Sasha Gorodnitzki. His style was light years away from the French school I had been brought up in and from him I was introduced to the rich sound of the old Russian school. The biggest influence, however, was Arthur Rubinstein…He was my idol since I first heard him when I was twelve, and I was fortunate enough to have become his last pupil and close friend during the last 7 years of his wonderful life.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Just keeping my career afloat for the past forty years or so…it doesn’t get any easier.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble? 

Naturally if there is a conductor, it is always a help if he or she is a pleasant and flexible musician with good accompanying skills and a sensitivity to my own brand of music making. If the conductor is unpleasant but a brilliant musician, this can work, but not always. If he is pleasant and a lousy conductor, this also can work because then I just make alliances with the principals in the orchestra. If the orchestra is young or just not top quality, it can be very exciting especially if the players are enthusiastic…then we are all working very hard towards a common goal and the fun is to see how far we can get. With a great orchestra it is always a pleasure, particularly if I am playing Chopin and I can impress them enough that they also get some enjoyment out of the piece (Chopin concertos have rather sparse orchestral accompaniments and sometimes the orchestra members get bored). What I have always tried to do is to give my utmost, NOT just in the performances but also in rehearsal out of respect to my colleagues sitting around me.

Which recordings are you most proud of? 

Honestly…….I really don’t listen to my recordings once they are made public. I did, however, hear my latest Mozart CD ( K415 and 449 with the Chamber Players of Canada) as someone played it to me in the car driving somewhere. It sounded okay. I like my recording of the Paderewski Concerto and the Polish radio orchestra, but that’s mainly because I love the slow movement of that piece and no one seems to want to program it in concert anywhere so one never hears it which is a shame.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

Manitoulan Island, in the province of Ontario, Canada – a magical place, a pleasant little auditorium and the best audience of all.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I assume you mean musicians that are still living?

There are too many to list but I will try and remember some; I have six Canadian pianist colleagues who I adore (Hamelin, Hewitt, Parker, Chang, Lortie, Laplante) .

Outside of Canada there is Imogen Cooper, Krystian Zimerman and Radu Lupu whom I admire more than you can imagine, and of course Perahia, Barenboim, Zacharias, Ax, Argerich, Sokolov, Jeffrey Swann, and MANY others. Of the younger generation I have been most impressed by the young Germans, Alexander Schimpf and Hinrich Alpers, the Georgian, Tamar Beraia, the Frenchmen Lorenzo Soules and Francois Dumont, the Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz and the Scottish/Dutch pianist Christopher Devine.

What is your most memorable concert experience?  

My comeback recital in Irsee, Germany in 2004. It had been exactly two years to the day in exactly the same venue that I had last performed before succumbing to a cancerous tumour which paralysed my left arm. After a muscle transfer surgery I came back to play in Irsee  and it was quite emotional for me. The hall was filled with friends not only from all over Germany but also from America and the UK.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to? 

Mozart and Chopin are my favourites to play. Probably I’d enjoy a Lieder recital the most to listen to…….I love Mozart operas and I have a passion for Wagner.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students? 

That the composer comes first always. That one does not become a concert pianist for the money or to become famous but simply because one loves music deeply and one has a special talent to communicate a composers wishes and dreams to the audience. That playing the piano is not a sport but a deeply spiritual, artistic endeavor. That the more knowledge one accumulates and absorbs  about not just piano music but all great music and Art, the better an artist one will become …but only after many years of experience. One cannot hurry these things. The trick is to somehow pay the bills during those long years of study and experience gathering.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

At home working in my garden.

interview date: April 2014

Beloved the world over for her exquisite pianism, Janina Fialkowska has enchanted audiences for over thirty years with her glorious lyrical sound, her sterling musicianship and her profound sense of musical integrity. Blending her vast experience with her refreshingly natural approach “Fialkowska has become an artist of rare distinction as well as retaining all the virtuosity of her youth” (La Presse, Montreal, February 13, 2009)

Celebrated for her interpretations of the classical and romantic repertoire, she is particularly distinguished as one of the great interpreters of the piano works of Chopin and Mozart. She has also won acclaim as a champion of the music of twentieth-century Polish composers, both in concert and on disc.

Read Janina’s full biography here