Viennese pianist Till Fellner has gained a reputation for his interpretations of masterpieces from central European repertoire, and his enjoyable lunchtime recital featured well-known and well-loved pieces by Haydn, Schumann and Liszt.

If Liszt was the “inventor” of the piano recital as we know it today, then Haydn laid the foundations for putting the piano centre stage by elevating the piano sonata from drawing room sweetmeat to a substantial work for public performance (a trend continued and much extended by Beethoven). Till Fellner selected one of Haydn’s last sonatas, composed in London in the mid-1790s and written to demonstrate the full range and capabilities of the new Broadwood piano. The sonata is dedicated to Teresa Jansen, a pupil of Clementi, and one of London’s most successful piano teachers at the time.

© Monika Groser
© Monika Groser

The outer movements of this charming and virtuosic sonata are full of wit and humour, highlighted by Fellner, who offered crisp articulation, bright passagework, and some finely nuanced shading and colour. At times, the hands appeared to be in conversation with one another. The middle movement, one of Haydn’s most expressive slow movements, was played with a measured elegance and warmth, while the sense of humour was restored with a cheerfully effervescent closing movement, full of bright sounds and bubbly motifs. Almost before the last note was played, Fellner stood up from the piano, as if to emphasise the carefree nature of this music.

Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) were composed in 1838, midway between the Davidsbündlertanze and Kreisleriana, and in them Schumann “put on [a] frilly dress” (his own description, in a letter to his wife Clara) and wrote a series of delightful short pieces which have become much-loved piano favourites for both early piano students, and adults. While there is a subtle variation-like connection between each piece in the use of harmony and rhythmic motifs, they are all distinctive, full of character and charm, and Fellner neatly caught the changing moods each piece while retaining a sense of childlike innocence and simplicity. The preciseness of his playing was evident throughout, with the same with, humour, imaginative colour, and dynamic contrasts found in the Haydn.

Originally conceived as songs for high tenor voice, Liszt later transcribed his three Petrarch Sonnets for piano and included then in his second, Italian, year of the Années de pèlerinage. The piano versions all retain a strong sense of the ‘sung line’, and Liszt’s sensitivity to the Petrarch’s original text allows him beautifully to capture the atmosphere and sentiment of the poet’s words. Till Fellner chose to contrast the more anguished Sonetto 104 (“I find no peace….”) with the ethereal Sonetto 123 (“I beheld on earth angelic grace…….”). In the first, the poet ponders the confused state love has put him in. Enthralled to his lover, he feels imprisoned yet free, he burns with love, yet he feels he is made of ice: in modern psychological parlance, a true state of "limerence". Fellner capitalised on the agitation in the Sonetto 104, with its nervous, syncopated opening and dramatic recitative, while in the Sonetto 123, an ardent love poem in which the poet describes the perfect beauty and purity of his love and its effect on all of Heaven and Nature, he was more restrained, offering a shapely reading of the wonderful song lines of this piece. A little more pedal in places would have enhanced the dreamy nature of this piece, but some lovely arpeggiated chords in the closing measures restored a sense of tranquility.

For an encore, a bouncy, characterful and martial rendition of the popular Canozonetta del Salvator Rosa, also from the Italian Années de pèlerinage rounded off a very engaging lunchtime recital.

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