in: Reviews

November 5, 2009

Fellner’s Beethoven Wows Knowledgeable BCM Audience

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The Viennese pianist Till Fellner played five Beethoven sonatas — six, including an encore — for a knowledgeable and appreciative audience on Tuesday evening, November 3rd, at 8 pm at Boston Conservatory. As part of the school’s ongoing Piano Masters series, Fellner, a former student of Alfred Brendel, also presented a master class for the Conservatory’s piano students on the following afternoon. (Mr. Brendel, who is visiting New England Conservatory for Master Classes and to receive a special citation, was in the audience for the Fellner concert.)

The program opened with the Sonata in G major, op. 79, composed in the fall of 1809 when Beethoven was experimenting with new modes of expression. The three short movements play almost humorously with characteristic dance modes, artfully characterized in Feller’s sensitive rendering: a German dance in the opening Presto alla Tedesca, a dreamy barcarolle with its rocking bass and Schubertian harmonies in the Andante, closing with a light-footed Vivace march. In the F# major sonata that followed, op. 78, beautifully voiced chords and contrapuntal clarity came to the fore in the first movement, and light-fingered playfulness in the second. Fellner’s poetic sense of tone color and register were particularly evident in the nostalgic “Pastoral” Sonata, op. 28, its drone basses, horn fifths and rustic leaps in the first, third, and fourth movements contrasting with the somber D minor affect of the Andante. After the intermission we heard the E minor Sonata, op. 90, the first one that Beethoven provided with movement headings — indicating character rather than tempo — in his native German, and pointing to the intensely inward and lyrical modes of his late phase. After the lively first movement, the nostalgic pastoral mood and sustained lyricism of the Rondo Finale, interspersed with passages of ethereal counterpoint, was the perfect vehicle for Fellner’s beautifully rounded tone and sense of space.

Beethoven’s pupil, the Countess Babette von Keglevics, to whom the Sonata in Eb, op. 7, was dedicated, was apparently a pianist of unusual ability. This is a big, virtuosic, dramatic, and broadly expressive piece whose Rondo Finale builds to a bravura climax, then ends pianissimo. Fellner’s sure sense of  pacing, his singing tone heard even in rapid passagework, and his ability to render contrapuntal passages with the utmost clarity without sounding forced, all contributed to a stellar performance. As an encore, Fellner gave us a spirited rendering of the delightful sonatina in G minor, op. 49, no. 1. Boston is lucky to have been included on Fellner’s Beethoven tour; let’s hope he comes back soon.

see related interview here

Virginia Newes lives in Cambridge. She was Associate Professor of Music History and Musicology at the Eastman School of Music.

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