BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No 32 LISZT Années de pèlerinage No 1
This recording combines two live performances by Till Fellner: the Swiss Année in the Great Hall of the Vienna Musikverein (June 2002) and Op 111 at Middlebury College, Vermont (October 2010). Despite the venues’ acoustic attributes, microphone placement seems distant in both cases and one could wish for a more crisply defined sound. The performances, on the other hand, are of a calibre that fully justifies the release of this compelling disc by a pianist whose relatively few recordings belie the magnitude of his gifts.
The Swiss Année is all the obvious things one hopes it to be: exquisitely captured memories of mighty snow-capped precipices, flocks grazing green meadows dotted with flowers, the glass surfaces of tranquil glacier lakes, bracingly pure air, astonishing aural environments that echo and amplify, constantly altering play of light, senses enraptured amid nature’s terror and beauty.
This is where Fellner parts company with the best of his colleagues to pursue a path leading to another level entirely. What we hear is what is on the page, plain, clear, concise. At no point does Fellner allow himself to edge in front of Liszt. He doesn’t bang. Neither elaborate rubatos, extraneous agogic signifiers nor pianistic figuration, however finely executed, moves the music forward; harmony, polyphony, and melodic contours do. As a result Liszt emerges bold, direct, uncompromising and almost overwhelmingly powerful.
Tears in the much abused ‘Vallée d’Obermann’ are mopped up, and a young superhero stands proudly on dry ground. In place of histrionics, Fellner articulates this message of delivery from inner tumult to redemption through the magnificence of nature with integrity and shining poetic eloquence, evoking ecstasy of trembling authenticity. The forthright simplicity of rustic shepherds’ songs is captured in ‘Eglogue’ with irresistible lilt and charm. Alpine horns resounding through the valleys in ‘Le mal du pays’ and distant bells heard at night in ‘Les cloches de Genève’ thrillingly conjure uncanny acoustic phenomena, leaving all doors open to Debussy.
In 2008 10 Feller played the entire Beethoven cycle in Vienna, Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. His performance of Op 111 is informed by the same qualities of self-effacement, probative depth and sheer joy in the music that make his Liszt so special. This is important playing of breathtaking finesse and integrity. It will leave you wanting more.