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FringeReview UK 2018

Janice Fehlauer Piano Recital

Janice Fehlauer

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton


Low Down

Janice Fehlauer plays a wide-ranging and original selection of carnival music from Couperin, Schumann, Liszt, Stravinsky and Villa-Lobos.


Janice Fehlauer is a name wholly unknown to me, but on the strength of this astonishing recital she should be at the Wigmore hall and with a number of CDs to her credit.


It’s an innovative recital too, here theming Carnival. Fehlauer’s an extraordinarily powerful player and one feared for the ‘small grand’ instrument which though a lowly brand has in its reconditioned life proved a remarkably fine one considering. Fehlauer’s clearly a Steinway D player though, yet manages to nuance her whole approach to a smaller instrument.


Even more so when you consider her daring use of a set of miniatures from the harpsichord world. Though Angela Hewitt’s made three discs of Francois Couperin’s orders from his twenty-seven, no-one’s tackled No. 11 the Onzieme Ordre in C (1717) on piano before. Dispending with the first four exotica movements, Fehlauer focuses on the Ordre-within-Ordre that concludes the work.


Couperin’s never far from a party, or from melancholy, and his pageantry here encompasses both. The pomp of the opening with a title full of xs, just stops short of offending court etiquette though the movement’s quietly grand. More biting is the following village grouping of hurdy-gurdy playing and beggars which Fehlauer emphasizes with élan and bite – especially when it speeds up and one and drones to the others’ tune, prophesying Alkan’s famed Prelude No. 8 ‘Chanson de la folle au bord de la mer’ of 1848. Next she brings out Jugglers and Tumblers. Then again we’re immersed in the invalids, and war-wounded, more than a nod to the afflicted with limping rhythms crisply taken with a punch of desolation about them. Then a general disorder and flurrying that brings out Fehlauer’s virtuosity – soon to explode – dissolves everything in ordered chaos.


Schumann loved to jest and his 1839 Carnival Pranks From Vienna Op 26 quotes the banned Marseillaise. The great opening with its agonized climax isn’t her, but the last three movements of its five perk up a prankish world in a Scherzino, Intermezzo and particularly Finale where the ghosts of other things we know from Schumann as well as this work get an enormously Florestan reading – the famously self-labelled exuberant side of Schumann.


Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 Carnival in Pest is one of the middling-known of his 21. Fehlauer gives a terraced reading where that’s needed between her fire-cracking the individual quasi-folks-strands. It’s a quite stupendous box of pyrotechnics and this reading can’t be bettered.


Villa-Lobos’ Children’s carnival of 1919-20 has four brief movements and again with its clean-rinsed harmonics, both post-romantic and French-inflected with naturally Brazilian features created by the composer simply whizz by. Here a modern work finds Fehlauer both able to inflect a colour and 20th century panache: clean-cut rhythms, cutting melodies, an exuberant clarity of melodies and textures that can become congested through the very polyphony Villa-Lobs invokes Here he sues a simpler, friendlier palate and its one of his best-known piano works. So little Pierrot’s Toy Pony, Little Devil’s Whip, Pierette’s Ruse and the Little Clown’s bells aren’t obvious to us save perhaps the last. But it doesn’t matter. Its Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite on speed.


Finally that huge ballet carnival reduced to three movements, of which we hear just the last: Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrouchka. That famous folk-tune rings out as ‘La semaine grass’ bustles and charges. Fehlauer here carefully terraces her reading so you can hear something of the orchestral evocation. It’s a built-in encore and I’ve not heard anyone do this better. Fehlauer allows the folk tune to rise with tis memorable theme and then lets other cross-rhythms overwhelm everything. The glissandi and crash of the final chords mark a fitting end to this stunning forty-five minute recital.


Her performances aren’t just virtuosic or the material wide-ranging and original. Fehlauer has pianism to burn and knows where to restrain herself – to be fair she didn’t give herself a programme allowing very much of that save in the opening. It’d be marvellous to hear her in even more wide-ranging material than this. Outstanding.