Electrifying Fliter Takes Music Fest by Storm

August 17, 2007

The brilliant young Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter had the misfortune of making her Chicago recital debut last April playing on a bad piano in an oppressively hot Mandel Hall.

As if ill luck were dogging her a second time, she had to cope with a nasty early-evening thunderstorm for her Chicago orchestral debut Wednesday at the Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park. Even so, she delivered a compelling performance.

This was downtown Chicago’s first opportunity to hear why the 33-year-old pianist was chosen last year to receive the Gilmore Artist Award, a prestigious honor that is equivalent to the MacArthur “genius” grant. Fliter is the first woman to win the $300,000 prize, which is given every four years to pianists of exceptional ability. She is exceptional indeed, if her rain-vanquishing account of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor is any indication.

Fliter is slim and athletic-looking and has long blond hair that she tosses back at moments of propulsive drama, which occur often in her playing. Much of the buzz that centered around her, pre-Gilmore award, owed to the natural feeling for the Chopin idiom evidenced in her video recordings. She demonstrated that feeling again Wednesday in a performance informed by a fearless technique, a formidable temperament, a highly refined sense of color and oodles of personality, not unlike that of her mentor, Martha Argerich.

Fliter set a brisk pace for principal conductor Carlos Kalmar and the orchestra in the outer movements -- no milquetoast Chopin playing for this pianist, conductor and ensemble.

Indeed, she pounced on the cascading figurations and dancing mazurka rhythms of the finale with an unshakable confidence that suggested Fliter is fleeter than most pianists who play the concerto. And she traced the arching cantabile of the central larghetto with a winning combination of poetry, drama and graceful detailing. A roaring ovation from the dampened horde huddled around the Pritzker Pavilion was Fliter's reward. Can her Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut be far off?

An alert accompanist in the Chopin work, Kalmar brought a similar kind of rhythmic resilience and vitality to Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony. This was far from your typical sleepy crawl through the countryside. The orchestra sounded both energized and engaged, while the Beethoven sound it produced was robust and full without being heavy. The oboe, clarinet and horns chirped genially, while the strings had a warm sheen.

Alas, as if on cue, the lakefront skies erupted in a lightning- and thunder-laden cloudburst just before Beethoven's storm did: for once, nature imitated art. Out came the umbrellas, while scores of folks sought shelter under the giant titanium canopy.

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune