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Fellner's Latest Bach

available at Amazon
Bach, Inventions and French Suite No. 5, Till Fellner (piano)

(released on April 28, 2009)
ECM New Series 2043

Online scores:
J. S. Bach, Two-Part Inventions | Three-Part Inventions | French Suite No. 5, BWV 816
Austrian pianist Till Fellner struck gold with his 2004 recording of the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. The first time we reviewed Fellner in concert, at a 2007 concert at the National Gallery of Art, he played Bach's sinfonias, or three-part inventions. As it turns out, that concert was a preview of Fellner working out his interpretation for this new Bach disc, which was recorded a few months later. As noted in the live performance, Fellner took these pieces, often thought of as etudes for piano students to learn the fundamentals of counterpoint (in fact, designed by Bach for expressly that purpose), and rethought them as a cycle of character pieces. The two-part inventions are more difficult to make much of, but Fellner turns a well-toned technique on them, too, and the interpretations are varied in color and nuance.

Fellner allows Bach's music to unfold at its own pace, without distorting it rhythmically, putting him among the best at these works when played on the piano (for me, if it had to be only one Bach keyboard recording on my shelf, it would always be harpsichord -- Masaaki Suzuki is a very good choice). In the inventions, Fellner is less mercurial than Glenn Gould (also mercifully not prone to humming along with himself), more daring with tempo choices and embellishments than Angela Hewitt, and more likely to use a smooth legato touch than an overly percussive one like András Schiff. Thrown in for good measure is the fifth French Suite, played without any of the rhythmic distortion heard recently from Simone Dinnerstein, creating supremely unmannered renditions of the sarabande and louré and delightfully crisp dancing in the gavotte and bourrée. Even better, the gigue is not merely fast (as Dinnerstein's certainly was) but light-heeled and bubbling with unexpected voicings.

This evening (May 11, 7:30 pm) is the third installment of Till Fellner's Beethoven cycle, at the Austrian Embassy. This concert will feature the three sonatas of op. 10 and the redoubtable op. 106 ("Hammerklavier").

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