thu 18/09/2014

Till Fellner, Wigmore Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Till Fellner, Wigmore Hall

Elegant performances from a gentleman pianist

Till Fellner's ear for detail makes an artful musical argument compelling
Till Fellner's ear for detail makes an artful musical argument compellingBenjamin Ealovega

Much like Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in G, Op 79, with which he started the programme, I’ll get straight to the point. Till Fellner is a very good pianist. To demonstrate this, I’d like to jump to the last sonata of five we heard in this all-Beethoven programme last night: the Piano Sonata in E flat, Op 7. When you look at this music on the page, you could easily see this piece becoming a bumptious triplet-fest of mind-numbing proportions. When it is  in the capable and stylish hands of someone like Fellner, it turns into an artful musical argument, with unexpected turns at every corner and moments of gentle filigree that belie the technique and musicality beneath.

It is Fellner’s ear for detail that makes these arguments all the more compelling. The pianissimo chords near the beginning of the first movement have just a hint of the regal about them, which almost puts them out of time with everything else and interrupts the flow just enough that the ear catches it, but not so much that it trips over it.

The melodies that emerge from the semiquaver passages are beautifully placed and urge the music on, but they never appear to rush. In the second movement (which is sublime anyway, with that wonderful moment at the end of the first phrase that is about as close as Beethoven ever gets to suspension heaven) Fellner’s use of the soft pedal is perfect enough that you realise you’ve stopped breathing for the last phrase or so. And those six stabbing chords where Beethoven unexpectedly sticks the knife in are performed with such gentlemanly and perfectly moulded anger that it is a pleasure to be walloped with them.

This sonata, then, offered the whole gamut of emotion, technique and style. The rest of the programme didn’t. After the amuse-bouche of the Sonata in G we slid down the scale to Op 78, in F sharp major, and Op 28, the Pastoral. All three sonatas were beautifully coiffured – not a hair out of place – but they either didn’t offer, or Fellner didn’t give us, as much contrast as we might have had. The G major showed us that Fellner can do light and whimsical, the first movement of the F sharp major showed us that he can do heavier emotions, too. The Pastoral showed us, well, that he can do pastoral – though it was so elegantly played it felt more like a Capability Brown landscape than a romp or otherwise in a haystack. By the interval I was pleading for a rude awakening, something to pierce through the clingfilm that kept everything so perfectly in its place.

This was unfortunate, because I really did enjoy listening to Fellner. I loved the effortlessness of it all, the way he brought out melodies in all sorts of unusual places, and to be fair, there were some excitingly brief glimpses of naughtiness – a firecracker minor section in the second movement of the F sharp major sonata, for example,  that set the heart a-tingling. Fellner plays with such sensitivity that in the slow movements you can sit back and let it all wash over you, or lean forwards to catch every delicate touch of rubato, or be anywhere in between – his playing works on all levels. But I’d have liked another of the more boisterous sonatas somewhere to get a true feeling of balance in this programme.

Now to more mundane matters. What a cantankerous bunch of grumps the Wigmore Hall audience was. At the end, Fellner gave us a whole sonata for an encore: the miniature Sonata in G minor Op 49 No 1, not that a good proportion of the audience would have known – or cared – as they were already rampaging towards the exits as fast as their legs could carry them. If anything was going to put you off coming to a classical concert, that would be it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fellner was booking in for the Southbank’s Night Shift next time - at least the audience members appear appreciative there, even if they do talk during the music. At the end of his encore, you couldn’t see the stage such were the numbers clambering over each other to get out of the door. If you missed it, because you were too busy bulldozing past my seat to catch your train, then I will gleefully report that you missed a treat.

Fellner’s use of the soft pedal is perfect enough that you stop breathing for the last phrase or so.

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