Pianist Till Fellner makes compelling Baltimore debut
Presented by An die Music Live, in a departure from that organization’s home base in Mount Vernon, the event might easily have been canceled for good, as many other arts attractions were when the snow hit. Fellner’s scheduled recital Sunday at the National Gallery in DC was such a casualty, but he was willing to give the Baltimore gig another try on Monday. That was awfully fortunate for the folks who braved the still-iffy road conditions to get there – and fortunate for me that a couple of kindly souls were willing to give me a lift to and from; my car was still held captive by the conditions of the streets in my neighborhood. (Speaking of travel, there was a little glitch in the delivery of the Steinway to the BMA. Fellner had spent hours a few days earlier in DC picking out the instrument he wanted; that one stayed on the truck, alas. The crew unloaded the wrong one and departed.)
Fellner, the heir apparent to Alfred Brendel’s legacy of intellectually incisive, expressively refined interpretations of the fundamental German repertoire, has been busy presenting a cycle of all 32 Beethoven sonatas in a series held in various cities. This single run-out to Baltimore contained five, starting with No. 12 in A-flat. Except for the statement of the theme in the opening movement, which could have used a subtler, softer, warmer touch, Fellner’s account of this compact, yet action-filled, score was rich in detail. When he reached the whirling finale, he revealed a striking ability to maintain clarity and color even at a heady pace.
That flair would serve him well in every subsequent burst of rapid-fire finger work, such as the nearly perpetual motion finale of Sonata No. 13 in E-flat (Fellner’s tempo was both furious and fun). And the virtuosity-testing last movement of No. 14 (“Moonlight”), delivered with a particularly startling ease of articulation and compelling sense of drama. I found the pianist’s phrasing in the iconic first movement of No. 14 a little
The first movement of No. 22 in F inspired abundant touches of character from Fellner; the way he delivered the burst of 21 repeated chords -- finely graded from a terrific fortissimo to a whisper -- just before the soft close of the first movement was but one example. The boldness of Beethoven’s vision and harmonic imagination in that score, as well as the “Waldstein” Sonata (No. 21) that closed the program, could be truly, deeply felt anew at every turn in Fellner’s performance. The closing movements of the “Waldstein” were magically shaped, from the sobering Adagio into the sweeping Rondo; the final prestissimo section, taken at a supersonic speed, was a marvel of musical muscle.
At 37, Fellner has already matured into a most impressive keyboard artist. It’s pretty cool to imagine what he’ll be capable of in the future.