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Bathing with Chopin

img  Tobias
The romantically inclined have always insisted that love at first sight really exists. In the case of Ingrid Fliter, however, her affection for Chopin became part of her DNA even before she was able to see or hear at all: “My father used to play the piano by ear”, she remembers, “I later found out that the way he conquered my mother was by playing Chopin waltzes.” More than 30 years later, the jury of the Gilmore award will become aware of her thanks to two live recordings dedicated almost entirely to the Polish composer – the beginning of a process which will eventually culminate in her scoring one of the most important prizes for any Pianist on this planet.

Right now, Ingrid Fliter is as busy as ever, about to hop on a plane from San Francisco to Grand Rapids, Michigan, next to preparing concerts in Washington, Lisbon and Barcelona. EMI have just released two download-only previews of her upcoming debut album with them and again, Chopin is at the center of attention. She has recorded the third Sonata, the fourth Ballade, the Barcarole Op.60, 4 Waltzes, 3 Mazurkas, 3 Scottish dances and the Fantasie Impromptu Op. 66 for an album which noone managed to think up a more imaginative title for than “Chopin: Piano Works”. It is a memorable moment for Ingrid, to whom Chopin and playing her instrument have always gone together.

“When I started my studies in Argentina, I was lucky to be introduced to Chopin’s music very soon”, she elucidates, “Thanks to this I discovered the beauty of piano playing as well as the importance of developing a singing tone on the instrument.” Where others habitually talked about the salon, however, she saw a mysterious cave filled with drama and intimate revelations: “Through the years of my studies, I was very touched by discovering his darker side, his sense of tragic, which plays a fundamental role in his music as much as the ‘joie de vivre’ does.”

You can already hear her extremely personal approach to Chopin on two early albums. Released by American label VAI Audio (“They have been decisive” she says about their relevance for her career), “Plays Beethoven & Chopin” and “Plays Chopin” feature some of the finest cuts from the Chopin repertoire presented in a uniquely idiosyncratic way.

What makes her interpretations stand out is that she regards every note, every on-a-dime sprint on the keyboard, every layer of oblique bass rumblings as an integral part of the composition – and not as timbre, texture or “mood”. Even the long stretch of reverb in the finale of the “Ballade No. 4” turns into a deep drone, upon which she carefully places floating islands of soft chords.

“For me, the most natural way of facing a piece of music is to feel it as telling a story”, Fliter says, “I always chose a composer who talks to me in a diary-sort of way. So that makes the process much more natural.” In performing Chopin, she returns the favour by translating these stories back to her audience. It is not an immediately visual style and she also eschews the fairy-tale endings many of her colleagues award to the return of the main theme after the twists and turns of the middle section. Instead, her musical novels have a distinct red thread running through them and a very organic flow. Fliter takes each moment on its own, throwing her body into the acoustic barrage without the stereotypical contortionist imitations.

Her natural sensitivity is the result of many years of hard work, but also of her happy childhood, which she remembers with fond memories: “Music was part of my everyday life. My mother used to sing many opera arias to me with a great voice while bathing me”, she tells me, “I was taken to concerts very often and watched movies about the greatest pianists of the century when the first video cassettes appeared. During that period I also watched the “Amadeus” movie more than 20 times in a row!”

A prodigy, however, she wasn’t. The decision of the Gilmore jury to allow her to follow in the footsteps of Leiv-Ole Andsnes and Piotr Andrszewksi came as a complete surprise to her: “I knew that Dan Gustlin was coming to Atlanta and I knew that he was coming to hear me”, she reveals on the VAI DVD “Ingrid Fliter in Recital” with a grin on her face, “When the moment came, I was really disappointed about the rehearsal, because the piano was horrible and the hall wasn’t very nice. Afterwards, however, he took me to lunch and told me I’d been awarded the 2006 Gilmore award.” She shakes her head: “It was a big shock. Only after three or four minutes I could hug him and thank him!”

Of course, her concert at the Miami International Piano Festival, which was recorded for the DVD and represents one of the first performances after the Gilmore award announcement, again includes Chopin – but it also features Haydn and Beethoven. The latter especially has become a lot more important for her of lately: “I played the ‘Beethoven 2’ for the first time in Santa Rosa, California, last week. I’m in love with this concerto now!”, she enthuses before heading to the takeoff area.

It will probably comes as a disappoint to many among the romantically inclined, but even though love at first sight really exists, there may be more than one love of your life.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ingrid Fliter
Homepage: VAI Records

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