Martina Filjak, pianist


Birthday Gift: New York Debut
The Croatian pianist Martina Filjak spent birthday on Monday hard at work, at least during the evening hours. She gave her New York recital debut at Zankel Hall, playing an adventurous and demanding program.

This engagement was part of Ms. Filjak’s prize for winning the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition earlier this year. The critical praise and general buzz she received for her performances during the final rounds seem merited, given the brilliance, sensitivity and imagination of her playing here.

Born into a family of pianists, Ms. Filjak, who has a lively and attractive stage presence, received excellent training from an early age, which surely accounts for the resourcefulness of her technique and the naturalness of her musicality. Yet, from the first work she played, “Une barque sur l’océan” from Ravel’s “Miroirs,” she demonstrated striking individuality.

The music evokes a boat atop rolling ocean waves through rippling piano arpeggios that build and crest across the entire keyboard. I tend to like this piece played with rhythmic impetus and clarity, so that the textures do not dissolve into an Impressionistic haze.

Ms. Filjak took a somewhat slow tempo and produced shrouds of milky piano sound. Yet she held the tempo with eerie poise and played with such uncanny delicacy that I was drawn right in.

For the first part of the program she chose works that explore elements of nature in different ways. From Ravel’s ocean she segued to three of Luciano Berio’s “Six Encores,” published in 1990. These ingenious pieces evoke, in turn, water (“Wasserklavier”), fire (“Feuerklavier”) and air (“Luftklavier”). The water piece is not what one might expect, but a short (two-minute) and elusive work, like some modern version of an Italian Renaissance ode to water. In the fire piece, on the other hand, you can hear the crackling flames in the piano’s spiraling, hyperfast figures and ominous dissonant tremolos. The air piece, again a curiosity, is obsessed with cyclic riffs and bursts of skittish, gritty runs. Ms. Filjak played throughout with vibrant colors and utter command.

Bartok’s “Out of Doors,” a 15-minute suite in five movements, explores the elemental side of nature, complete with pungently modern evocations of Hungarian peasant drums and pipes, and modal folk tunes played in eerie octaves. During the daunting final piece, “The Chase,” Ms. Filjak boldly dispatched the leaping chords and relentless volleys, playing with chiseled but never percussive sound.

After intermission she took on Beethoven’s mighty “Hammerklavier” Sonata. My guess is that she loves this work especially for its ruminative, profound slow movement, which she played with noble calm and quiet intensity. In the final movement, the astonishingly complex fugue, it was exhilarating to hear Ms. Filjak unravel the thorny counterpoint with such a light yet clear touch.

For me she did not convey the audacious, almost crazed grandeur of the opening Allegro. She even omitted the repeat of the exposition section, which is essential to the architectural impact of the piece.
Still, Ms. Filjak is a pianist to watch. And I hope she had some birthday fun at the postconcert reception.

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, December 17, 2009

A musician of unusual sophistication, discipline and personality with a keen grasp of disparate styles...lyricism and passion that she conveyed with the confident sensitivity of a true winner.

Donald Rosenberg, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

Her talent lay in her flowing phrases, well balanced and intelligent playing towards climaxes ... She showed a feeling for sensitive shading and let the music flow naturally. An impressive debut!

Wiener Zeitung

The elegant and subtly sophisticated pianist displays a prodigious technique and tremendous power combined with profound sensitivity and expressive musicality, qualities rarely savoured in artists performing today, including many big names being promoted by the most prestigious record labels.

In Fernem Land, Barcelona

Filjak leapt like a tigress devouring the bolder passages [of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2] with rollicking vehemence. Yet, its delicate fugal material she dispatched with the graceful airiness of a kitten.

Zachary Lewis, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

One could hardly overcome one's astonishment at the fullness of sound, the brilliant chords, the polyphonic melody... Balakirev's "Islamey" in its demands as well as in its execution by Martina Filjak was in any case spectacular and technically breathtaking.

Passauer Neue Presse

Martina Filjak was the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. What the audience heard in Nikolai Hall [Potsdam] was virtuosity through and through, musical fireworks, which were not confined to the third movement 'Allegro con fuoco'.

M. Müller, Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung

Martina Filjak...exudes artistic finesse, discipline and power ... An adventurous musician with exceptional command of keyboard possibilities .... Her playing [of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata] was noble and robust, full of observant details and unafraid to acknowledge the extremities of Beethoven's achievement.

Donald Rosenberg, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

Then came the intoxicating part of the evening. The enchanting pianist Martina Filjak, by now sought after world-wide, fascinated the listener with her style and her incredibly large range of expression and dynamic variability in her musical interpretation of Chopin's F minor Concerto.

Gunter Thiel, Mittelbadische Presse

By turns gentle and hard in her attack, thoroughly adept with legato and staccato, brilliant in her ornamentations, full of temperament in the cadenzas, the young Croatian proves to be a keyboard lioness of the highest order.

Potsdamer Neuste Nachrichten

The Ravel concerto played by Martina Filjak can only be compared to the performances of the young Ivo Pogorelich – very special, extremely personal and as an artist bursting with energy, charisma and self-confidence.

Željka Weber, Jutarnji list, Zagreb

The surprise of the evening was the appearance of Martina Filjak, a young lady who equally flew over the keyboard as she powerfully used it in an incredibly virtuosic and strongly emotional performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, op.35 ... with outstanding virtuosity and dedication, with forceful rhythms, wild fireworks of technical brilliance and a fine sense for elegiac moments she made an overwhelming impression.

Susi Hofmann, Zuricher Oberlander, Switzerland

In Luciano Berio’s Wasserklavier she displayed the most intimate, delicate touch – sometimes as if it were a sin to touch the keys.  In Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata that dissolved to reveal the necessary radicalness. In the center of it all stood the Adagio – in Filjak’s interpretation devout, almost sacred and full of subtle movement.

Daniel Wixforth, Der Tagespiegel

The soloist demonstrated to the astonished audience her absolute command of all the magic tricks from the witch’s kitchen of piano playing and more importantly proved that she has the necessary maturity to explore one of Beethoven’s latest and most complex works [Hammerklavier Sonata] in depth and convincingly.

T. Daumerlang, Passauer Neue Presse