Times Music Writer

Locally, it was the last gasp of the Franz Liszt year--1986, the centenary of the composer’s death--an important happening, since these past 12 months have provided numerous opportunities in the reassessment and redefinition of Liszt’s stature and historical place.

As such, Janina Fialkowska’s latest Southland appearance, a Liszt recital at El Camino College featuring a complete performance of the 12 “Transcendental” Etudes, was a noteworthy event. In the 11 years since the young Canadian pianist first played here, her artistic horizons have broadened, her pianistic credentials have been polished; with every return appearance, she sounds more and more like a major presence in her generation.

Still, at 35, Fialkowska often remains cherishable more for her promise than her achievement. With abundant technical resources, undeniable musicality and sometimes charismatic personal projection, she produces admirable performances that often remain earthbound.


Friday, sailing unperturbed through both the complicated and daunting etudes and, for a curtain-raiser, the Variations on “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” Fialkowska resolutely refrained from finding that level of communication or inspiration to lift her listeners above the mundane (in the same program, played 14 months ago at Occidental College, the results were reportedly more satisfying).

It was a disappointing evening mostly for the articulated range of colors and kaleidoscopic emotional states these works can evince, but did not on this occasion. The piano on which Fialkowska played seemed unable to provide such differentiations; the pianist did not indicate their existence.

Nor did she make assaults on either awesome loudness or breathtaking quietude; her dynamic range remained politely limited. Technical hurdles she traversed easily, but without joy or panache--the self-hypnotism of the born virtuoso seems non-existent in Fialkowska’s earnest stage-manner. Poetry, likewise, the poetry of shared feelings and racial memory, makes only infrequent appearances in her performances.

Excitement, deep emotional intensity, a connection to the demonic--these elements never materialized. Not in the nightmare-ride of “Mazeppa,” not in the rhetoric of “Vision,” not in the bravura of “Eroica,” certainly not in a very tame “Wilde Jagd.” Nor did the spiritual and seraphic qualities of “Harmonies du Soir” or “Ricordanza” lift up our ears. And the supreme lightness and delicacy necessary in the all-important quiet passages of “Feux follets” and “Chasse-neige"--did not happen.

A large and attentive audience was further shortchanged in extensive but thoroughly wrong-headed program notes, notes which failed to describe the music at hand in graphic, followable and interesting terms.