At Phillips, pianist Martina Filjak offers unexpected interpretations of familiar works

May 13, 2013

Martina Filjak offered some surprises during her recital Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection. The Croatian-born pianist gave sometimes unexpected interpretations of familiar works, paired with pieces that were just unexpected. She also played with the una corda pedal halfway down most of the time, enough to keep the hammers striking all three strings but shifting their position just slightly. The goal was to force this often hard-edged instrument into a different realm of sound, and it worked.

Filjak opened with a Mozart sonata (B-flat major, K. 333), one of his sunniest and most welcoming, and she set the first and third movements at an easy-paced tempo that sounded happy, not manic. Her touch at the keyboard was varied, mostly subdued, and her phrasing buoyant, with the less important accompanying parts made transparent and light. Her foot was perhaps a little heavy on the sustaining pedal, and the tempo of the second movement was slow enough that it bordered on soporific. By contrast, Schumann’s “Carnival of Vienna,” Op. 26, was riotous in the crowd scenes and often moonstruck in the interludes, with a glacial “Romanze” taken sotto voce, vanishing into itself.

The high point came unexpectedly with Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for the left hand, Op. 9, as if the reduction of possibilities of voicing challenged Filjak to dig deep and layer the sound in more nuanced ways. Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 4 in C-minor, Op. 2, was moody, somber and even angry, but mostly in a subtly contained way, until the rash outburst of the final movement, which made for a strong conclusion to a promising recital. Although Filjak did not overwhelm with technical brilliance in either the Schumann or the Prokofiev, this was a performance that kept me guessing.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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