Ingrid Fliter makes Baltimore debut
In an age when piano competitions are generally devalued (the bad rap is that only bland players can win, by alienating the fewest judges), the Gilmore Artist Award has easily become a big deal. Sort of like the MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius award" bestowed after an anonymous search process, the Gilmore honor, given every four years, involves no competition. Candidates have no idea they are under consideration; unknown judges travel around to listen to the talent in action. Leif Ove Andsnes (1998) and Piotr Anderszewski (2002) are representative of the honoree quality. The most recent winner, Ingrid Fliter (2006), has earned her share of plaudits as well.
The Argentinian-born Fliter gave her first Baltimore recital last night for the Shriver Hall Concert Series before an audience that reacted with much enthusiasm. I wasn't totally blown away by the experience. No question the pianist has considerable gifts. Even allowing for some momentary digital or memory lapses, her technique proved first-rate, and her phrasing was always thoughtful, often compelling. Still, I had the feeling that we weren't hearing the best she has to offer (everyone can have an off night, of course).
Her opening forray into Bach territory, his Italian Concerto, was neat and crisp in the outer movements, quite poetic in the middle one, yet the performance lacked the extra dash of personality that can make this music sing.
A group of Chopin pieces, a mazurka and six waltzes, was curiously chosen in terms of key signature: two C-sharp minor items in a row, then three A-flat major items in a row, a single A minor one and yet another A-flat major. This isn't exactly a crime, but I do think a wider harmonic range would have been worth exploring. That said, the pianist revealed an admirable sense of rhythmic nuance, allowing Chopin's exquisite melodies an effective elasticity. But the tonal coloring Fliter produced proved limited, not as vivid as on some of her recorded Chopin.
The second half of the program was devoted to one of Schumann's masterworks, the Symphonic Etudes. Here, Fliter summoned considerable virtuosity and more in the way of shading; this was impressive pianism by any measure. Her greatest achievement, though, was the way she chose to organize the music. Pianists have a certain latitude, since there's the matter of some five posthumous variations that are traditionally incorporated into the original score. A relatively common approach is to bunch them together somewhere in the middle. Everyone, as far as I know, closes with the original, bravura finale. Fliter, instead, placed the posthumous pieces in a distinct fashion, Variation I by itself, III and IV together later on and, most imaginatively, II and V after the world-be finale. Since Variation II and V are moody, unshowy reflections on the theme that launches the Symphonic Etudes, Fliter created a dramatic finishing touch that gave the half-hour piece an extra layer of depth.
I stayed for one encore, a Schubert Impromptu, that needed only a more delicate, sparkling touch in the right-hand flurries to generate its full measure of charm.
PHOTO: CM ARTISTS