We have heard the impressive Argentinean pianist Ingrid Fliter in Reynolds Theater on Duke University campus and are convinced she is the real thing and will have much to offer for many years to come. Her training began in Buenos Aires where she was born and continued in Europe at Freiburg and at Rome. She has been recognized with several awards including the Gilmore Artist Award in 2008; this is presented to an exceptional pianist who, regardless of age or nationality, possesses profound musicianship and charisma and who sustains a career as a major international concert artist. Fliter certainly does fit the bill.  

The program included two Beethoven Sonatas and a handful of works by Chopin with Fliter having developed recognition as an authoritative interpreter of both. The entire evening of music, including two encores, was presented from memory.

First on the program was Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat, Op. 31/3 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The three Sonatas of Op. 31 were composed in 1802 (along with the 2nd Symphony) during his stay in Heilgenstadt on advice from his physician. While there he faced up to the undeniable reality that he was losing his hearing and expressed his despair in the famous Heilgenstadt Testament. In spite of this, the music he wrote during that year is mostly bright and sunny, some passages Italianate in style. Beethoven’s driving need is to compose; to express “everything I feel within me,” he wrote, obviously won out over despair. Fliter was equally impressive whether the music called for a light playful touch or powerful dramatic expression, whether in gentle, rolling lyricism or driven, charging chords. Her dynamic musical expression came through in a balanced and consistently excellent performance.

The Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 was composed in 1804-05, perhaps into 1806. Beethoven himself did not affix the title “Appassionata” to the work, but he allowed it in publications during his lifetime (though there are divergent views on this.) This is a landmark composition demarking the path of the romantic era. This is music of deep personal reflection, power and emotional expression. Watching and listening to Fliter’s performance (she literally put the weight of her whole body into some of Beethoven’s fierce chords), I thought of what might have been Beethoven’s creative process. Perhaps in improvisation he found satisfaction in such sounds and then went through the process of notating his creation. The result is a manuscript with some pages appearing almost blacker with ink than the white paper medium.

Then there are the striking extremes. The first movement ends in “a puff of smoke” (Dan Coren, “What Horowitz taught me about Beethoven”), marked with ppp. Preceding that there are long passages marked ff and sempre ff (still fortissimo). Beethoven is pushing the limits of music harmonically, dynamically, expressively and musically in every direction. This is not a work for amateurs or students. In fact the 1838 publication of a four hand edition is acknowledgement that few pianists in that time (and in our time) could handle the demands of the likes of Beethoven’s “Appassionata.” Whether Fliter met all those demands, I cannot say. It was a stunning performance and I would love to hear her performance in, say, another ten years or so. 

After intermission Fliter continued the program in her business-like manner after her very deep bow acknowledging the audience’s appreciation. Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 9/3 is a thoroughly developed version of the musical nocturne as created by John Field. Its poetry and intimate charm were warmly welcomed and set the mood for the works to come. The very familiar Waltz in E-flat, Op. 18 was mesmerizing. The Waltz’s in A-flat, Op. 34/1; A major, Op.69/1; A-flat, Op. 42, and A minor, Op. posth. were just right, played marvelously with confidence and relaxed authority.

The ballade as a strictly instrumental piece was designed by Chopin. Modeled on the literary form, it takes elements of the sonata form in 6/8 meter which was often the choice in early vocal ballads. The program ended with a virtuoso performance of the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 which was greeted with warm enthusiastic applause.

Fliter was recalled for two encores: the first was the Allegretto movement of Piano Sonata No.17 in D minor, Op.31/2 “Tempest” by Beethoven and the second was the third of Ginastera’s rhythmic and rousing Danzas Argentinas.

It must be acknowledged that I read through the copious excellent program notes by Susan Halpern. I have tried studiously to avoid using her clever phrases or insights directly, but do admit that those notes were most useful in enhancing my enjoyment of the program.

Finally, I left this concert with a feeling of awe and admiration for the amazing talent of this still-rising pianist. My visual memory is of her hands flowing over the keyboard in an almost magical sweep. And of the sounds; her power and her delicacy and her thoughtful intimate interpretations were a reward deeply appreciated. Upcoming concerts in the Duke Performances include André Watts in December and Simone Dinnerstein in January 2012. Check the CVNC calendar for specific dates and times.