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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de pèlerinage, Première année 'Suisse', S160 [47:02]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 [28:26]
Till Fellner (piano)
rec. live, June 2002, Musikverein, Große Saal, Vienna (Liszt), October 2010, Mahaney Center for the Arts, Robison Hall, Vermont, USA (Beethoven)
ECM NEW SERIES 2511 [75:39]

This new ECM release, billed as 'Till Fellner – In Concert', features works by Liszt and Beethoven, recorded live on two separate occasions in 2002 and 2010 respectively. Quite why these performances have languished in the archives for so long, I am not certain. I was particularly keen to hear Liszt's Années de pèlerinage, Première année 'Suisse'. I listened to a broadcast of this cycle that the pianist gave the month before this performance at a lunchtime concert in the Wigmore Hall, London (20 May 2002) and, as I recall, was very impressed.

Fellner originates from Vienna. He studied at the Konservatorium der Stadt Wien with Helene Sedo-Stadler. He later undertook private studies with Alfred Brendel, Meira Farkas, Oleg Maisenberg and Claus-Christian Schuster. In 1992 he won first prize at the prestigious Clara Haskil International Competition. Five years later in 1998 he was awarded the Mozartinterpretationspreis of the Mozartgemeinde Wien.  It is a good omen that Brendel excelled in the two works featured in these two concerts. Fellner most probably studied them with him.

Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, Première année 'Suisse' is a suite of nine pieces, each taking inspiration from scenes and moods he encountered on his Swiss travels with his lover Marie d'Agoult in 1835-1839. All the pieces, with the exception of Orage and Eglogue, are reworkings of pieces found in his earlier Album d'un voyageur. Orage, the fifth piece, was written later than the others in 1855, the year the set was published. Fellner poetically sculpts the shorter pieces, but is able to pull out all the stops in the larger, more diffuse scores, which he contours seamlessly and invests with drama, weight and energy. I am thinking especially of Orage and Vallée d'ObermannLa Chapelle de Guillaume Tell, which opens the cycle, is noble and rhetorically imposing, whilst Au lac de Wallenstadt is delicately etched and bathed in swathes of impressionistic colour. Au bord d'une source, in Fellner's hands, is a radiant tone painting. In Les Cloches de Genève, the bells are an imposing presence throughout.

Fellner's traversal compares favourably with some of the best in the catalogue, including those by Brendel, Hough, Berman and Chamayou.

Beethoven's final piano sonata, the great valedictory Opus 111, is perhaps the greatest achievement in this genre from any composer. The first movement is stormy and suffused with dramatic contrasts, whilst the second is a sublime Arietta theme followed by a set of five variations and a coda. The pianist invests the opening movement with dynamism and drive, and the result is very exciting. He meticulously adheres to the dynamic markings in the score, and his well-judged pauses underline the music's emotionally-charged narrative. He plays the Arietta theme of the second movement with an innocent simplicity and, in the variations which follow, there is a timeless quality. Each of the variations builds up cumulatively as the movement progresses.  The dotted ‘jazzy’ third variation, he pulls off well. By the end of the movement there is an overwhelming sense of peace, tranquillity and inevitability.

There is no audience noise at all apart from applause. Superbly recorded in both instances, these performances, rich in musical insights, have much to offer.

Stephen Greenbank 



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