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Fellner Completes Beethoven Sonata Survey at BCM


Till Contemplates the Master (BMInt Graphic)

Till Fellner’s Boston Conservatory concert on Tuesday, October 12, has been a sellout for quite some time now —so unless our ticket-less readers deal with scalpers they’ll need to look to BMInt’s forthcoming review for a vicarious experience of the concert.

Mr. Fellner, who is Austrian, lives in Vienna. Recipient of first prize in the Clara Haskil competition in Switzerland in 1993, he concertizes with many of the world’s most well-known conductors. One of the major artistic heirs of Alfred Brendel, Mr. Fellner often performs with the former’s son Adrian Brendel; on this year’s schedule the two, with Lisa Batiashvili, will play the world premiere of a piano trio by Harrison Birtwistle. Mr. Fellner also will tour South America with the Bamberg Symphony and Spain with the Munich Chamber Orchestra.

He is loath to promote a sold-out event, but he was nevertheless willing to answer our questions.

BMInt: Your traversal of the complete sonatas of Beethoven ends for Bostonians with the last three opus numbers — 109, 110 and 111.  Has it been a long two years? How many concerts did the series include? Were you able to continue with other repertoire during this period?

Mr. Fellner: By the end I will have played ten complete Beethoven sonata cycles in New York, Washington DC, London, Vienna, Paris, Tokyo… and more than 100 Beethoven recitals altogether. It’s been a great experience to play all these wonderful pieces. During this period I have mostly concentrated on this huge project; nevertheless, I played some chamber music and also orchestral concerts, too.

BMInt: Last year — November, wasn’t it? — you were here at Boston Conservatory for five other Beethoven sonatas, right?

Mr. Fellner: Six. I played an encore, the opus 49 number 1 Sonatina in G minor.

BMInt: Would you kindly give us some hints and insights to deepen our listening?

Mr Fellner: The last three sonatas are among the deepest, most profound music ever written. There are motivic connections between these sonatas, and they make a beautiful program. Together with the sonatas op. 101 and 106 [the latter, the famous “Hammerklavier” sonata] they form a group in Beethoven’s late style. It still seems radical to our ears. It combines all kind of elements, baroque influences, modernism, highly dramatic and otherworldly lyrical passages, and even humor.

BMInt: Can you give us an example for humor?

Mr. Fellner:  The second movement of op. 110 quotes two humorous folk songs: Unsa kaetz haed katzl’n g’habt (“Our cat has had kittens”) and Ich bin luederlich, du bist luederlich (“I’m a down-and-out, you’re a down-and-out”).

BMInt: We note that you will be giving a master class at Boston Conservatory on Monday, the day before your final Beethoven sonata concert. Please tell our readers how you have enjoyed working with Artistic Director Michael Lewin and his BCM students.

Mr. Fellner: Well, I gave a master class last year and enjoyed it. In fact, recitals at the Conservatory are usually connected with a bit of teaching. I can certainly learn a lot by working with these gifted students – and I hope they will have a good time too

BMInt: What are your plans for your sabbatical?

Mr. Fellner: Study new piano repertory. Take some lessons in composition and conducting. Relax from traveling. Read more books. Watch more movies – after all I have only watched The Big Lebowski eight times so far.

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  1. Management was kind enough to place additional seating in the auditorium to accommodate those (like moi) who did not buy tickets in advance. But it appears that even then, EVERY seat was taken. I don’t know what would have happened if any more patrons had arrived. This is the second time I’ve attended a concert consisting of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas 30, 31 and 32. (A few years ago I heard Paavali Jumppanen perform the threesome at the Gardner Museum Tapestry Room.) Beethoven probably never intended this to happen, but they do form a very interesting concert nonethesless. Number 30 is a somewhat more inward-looking piece than the other two (there was a silence of perhaps 2 seconds before the applause began). Then number 31 moves with inexorable force to an almost Wagnerian finale(yes, I did attend the Met In HD “Das Rheingold” performance Saturday) that caused the audience to ERUPT in applause almost immediately. One needed the intermission to let these two pieces sink in before being prepared for LvB’s farewell to the Sonata (only the “Diabelli Variation” and some Bagatelles remained to be composed for the greatest master of the pianoforte; ONLY?) Speaking of the “Diabelli”, the Sonata number 32 and the very last variation of the “Diabelli” set seem to take the listener to another realm of music that few later composers could match or even approach. The simple technique of having the left hand intone the theme WAY DOWN to the lowest register of the 88-key keyboard while the right hand plays its notes as far up as the instrument allows makes the coda seem all-encompassing. Mr. Fellner played these demanding pieces with energy and aplmomb, at certain times almost rearing back like a predatory beast to let some louder passage quiet down, before playing the next section as if nothing had happened. I have a suspicion this is the way Beethoven played the instrument in his youth, while improvising before his patrons in lavish salons throught Vienna (Mr. Fellner’s home town). I wonder what Daniel Steibelt would have thought of this concert!

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — October 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

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