Monday, November 2, 2009

Woman on top

Right now you could say that pianist Ingrid Fliter is, if not on top of the world, still at nearly the top of her game. She's just won the prestigious (as in $300,000 worth of prestigious) Gilmore Prize, and with that as her calling card, has begun making a series of debuts in the U.S. and internationally. Sunday brought her to the Celebrity Series at Jordan Hall, where she steadily impressed, and finally riveted, a crowd that hardly filled the auditorium, but at least was there for the right reason: genuine curiosity about what might be the Next Big Thing in keyboard playing (Leif Ove Andsnes and Piotr Anderszewski were previous winners of the Gilmore). I think few of those in attendance were disappointed. Next time around, the place will most likely be packed.

One reason why is that Fliter (pronounced "fleeter") certainly doesn't lack for stage presence, although her straightforward sexiness (at left) is somehow a bit surprising on a concert stage, where we're more used to slinkiness than sunniness. But what also impresses one immediately about this pianist is her musical intelligence; one senses from her (as one doesn't from, say, Lang Lang) a sincere desire to explore the music she is playing. As with the earlier Gilmore pianists, for Fliter every performance is a kind of investigation.

Sometimes, of course, an explorer can seem uncertain, or even a bit lost, and I admit I wasn't completely taken with Fliter's first effort, the familiar Beethoven Sonata No. 18 (she's playing the fourth movement in the video above). Her touch is well-considered but hardly exquisite, and there was something a bit insistently experimental about her approach. Her playing was never crass or bombastic, but her rubato didn't seem tethered to any single interpretation, either; some phrases suddenly opened up, while others closed down, and still others ran together, for reasons that were hard to parse.

The bevy of Chopin waltzes that followed were in contrast all of a piece in tone and attack: rhythmic, yet more thoughtful than sparkling, with an emphasis on their hints of melancholy; some, indeed, sounded like swiftly lilting nocturnes. The highlight for me was a brief rarity, the haunting Waltz in A minor, which (unbelievably) was only "discovered" in 1955. (For encores Fliter tossed off charming versions of two far more famous waltzes, Op. 18 and the "Minute.")

Fliter's final selection was the challenging Schumann "Symphonic Etudes," a bravura piece which seemed to match superbly the pianist's persona and style. Fliter included in her performance the five variations published after Schumann's death, yet the order in which she played these seemed to vary from what was published in the program (although I'm not expert enough in this particular piece to track the differences). Nevertheless, the performance was riveting; with her combination of serious technical command, exploratory sensibility and yes, regretful self-awareness, Fliter proved the perfect guide to the mood, if not the letter, of this demanding work. My guess is that Schumann may be Fliter's true forte - certainly with the "Symphonic Etudes," she ended her Jordan Hall concert triumphantly on top.


  1. I heard her in Baltimore in January this year - there she played Symphonic Etudes in this order: Theme; Etudes I-V; Posthumous Variation I; Etudes VI & VII; PV III & IV; Etudes VIII-XII; PV II & V. She said that she created this order, and thought that ending the piece quietly gave it a deeper meaning.

  2. Interesting! I agree with her about the quiet, melancholic ending - it was very moving (although some other local reviewers disagreed!). Also goes to my sense of her as not a display technician but an "investigator" of a piece. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Not to overlook her talent, but has classical music ever been so good looking!? Compared to a Horowitz album, the cover of her Chopin recording could be a pin-up. This of course applies to many major contemporary soloists, male and female alike.

  4. And you should see her in the Pianist Illustrated swimsuit issue!

    Seriously, though, it strikes me that Fliter dresses less sexily on stage than, say, Yuja Wang. (The pianist, not the Chinese porn star.)