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Notes from the 2013 Salzburg Festival ( 11 )
Soloist Recital • Till Fellner

Soloist Recital • Till Fellner

Baroque Brawn and Classical Timidity

Picture courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Detail - click image to see entire photo.

If you favor pianism over star-power, the replacement of Evgeny Kissin (ill) with Till Fellner on short notice for the soloist recital on August 7th in the Grosses Festspielhaus should not have spelled disappointment. If you love Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, you might even have smiled inwardly: The program of some Well Tempered Clavier Preludes & Fugues, Mozart’s F major Piano Sonata K.533/494, and Haydn’s B minor Sonata Hob.XVI:32 (No.47, if you prefer the Landon numbering) for the first half didn’t compare badly to Kissin’s intended performances of Beethoven’s op.111, Schubert Impromptus, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, and Haydn XVI:52 (No.62). Certainly Fellner’s ending the first half with Haydn—the positioning of Haydn on concert program being a pet peeve of mine—brought a happy glint to my eyes.

Odd, and perhaps mildly disappointing then, that Fellner played the Haydn sonata so darn seriously, which allowed very little of the wit in Haydn—even wit in B minor—to show throw. Only in the Allegretto finale did he hit at that side of Haydn which, being a student of Haydn-humor master Alfred Brendel, he must be acutely aware of. The preceding clockwork-Mozart meanwhile, severe in the slow movement, and just short of ponderous, did remind of Brendel, but the blandish kind of Brendel often encountered on CD that makes those who aren’t fans wonder what is so special about Brendel in the first place. So grave and play-less and far away from all the ready and understandable Mozart clichés of lightness, even daintiness was this, as if that had been his explicit point.

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DSCH, Symphony No.6,
Till Fellner

Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes op.13 were a more lively affair, without a layer of interpretation on top of that which Schumann wrote: straight forward, neat, and well behaved, able to make extremes appear to take place with a built-in “ma non troppo”. Fasts were fast, but not too fast. Louds were loud, but not too loud. Slows were slow, but not too slow. Softs were soft, but not too soft. There are undoubtedly different ways of enjoying Schumann, but at least this particular way freed the ear’s view onto the music to enjoy it without colored lenses, which can do wonders to a sense of happy, continuous rediscovery of the music.

Interrupting half the audience on their way to their late-night dinner reservations, he encored Bach with which to reward the small but vocal Bravo-shouting section… a beautifully crafted Sarabande from the Second English Suite that reinforced once more the distinct impression that more Bach would have made for a yet more pleasant evening… an evening that started gorgeously with his evenly played first four Preludes and Fugues of the Second Book of the Well Tempered Clavier, perfectly suited to the Steinway Grand, without pretending to steer a harpsichord nor trying to milk the music for the romanticized coloring that the instrument would allow. The Book II of the WTC, partly because it’s slightly less familiar, is as or even more entrancing than the Preludes and Fugues from Book I (which tend to have overtones of piano lessons for those who slaved away at the instrument or had siblings doing so). The little marvel that is the C-sharp Major Prelude, for example, Fellner knew how to employ so as to suck the ears into its rhythmically compelling vortex. So compelling indeed, that one (by which I mean “I”) could have just gone right on listening to the whole rest of the Bach’s ‘bible’ for piano.