When Alfred Brendel, the revered Austrian pianist, gave his farewell performance in Vienna in 2008 after 60 years before the public, it was certainly the end of an era. But it may also have marked the beginning of one, since a likely heir to Brendel's artistic legacy is already here: Till Fellner.
The 37-year-old Fellner, slated to make his Baltimore debut Saturday, is also Austrian. He studied with Brendel and, like that seasoned artist, devotes most of his attention to the likes of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. As he told an interviewer last fall, "Life is too short to play Rachmaninoff or drink bad wine."
Also like Brendel, Fellner is a deeply serious musician, undemonstrative at the keyboard, yet strikingly expressive. But he clearly has his own voice, his own incisive style, which is why his concerts and recordings generate such remarkable praise.
The Vienna-born and -based pianist recently embarked on a two-year project of playing Beethoven's 32 sonatas in a series of concerts in cities around the world, including Washington. He'll play five of the sonatas in his recital presented by An die Musik Live at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Fellner enjoys immersing himself in the canonic Beethoven sonatas, one of the cornerstones of the keyboard repertoire.
"I record each performance and listen afterward to improve, to try to correct things," the pianist says, reached by phone in Stuttgart, Germany, "or to keep things that surprise me and do not sound so bad after all."
In addition to learning about his own playing, Fellner has been discovering some new aspects about the music.
"With a composer like Beethoven, you experience something new with every piece," he says. "There are two major points for me since I started the cycle. The first is that I'm just amazed at how incredibly wonderful the pieces are. The second is that I was surprised how lyrical the music can be."
Not to mention humorous.
"We think of Beethoven as a great heroic composer, which he definitely was," Fellner says. "But something, equally important, which I love is the humor. There are a lot of comic movements in the sonatas."
Fellner takes a dim view of the tendency to romanticize some of Beethoven's music, such as the C-sharp Minor Sonata on Saturday's program. It's known as the "Moonlight," a nickname applied after the composer's death by poet Ludwig Rellstab.
"The title is nonsense. I do agree that the first and also the last movements are about night, but without any moon at all," Fellner says with a laugh.
Once the Beethoven project is completed, the pianist might consider a cycle of the complete Schubert sonatas or Mozart piano concertos. "I would also love to play all the Haydn piano trios," Fellner says. "That is some of the really best piano music."
Obviously, Rachmaninoff's body of keyboard works won't be in the picture.
"There's nothing wrong about it," Fellner says. "It's well done, but it's not a high quality of music. For me, it's too sentimental. Maybe because of Alfred Brendel, I decided very early to concentrate on the Central European [composers]. Pianists have to concentrate. There is just too much repertoire. "
If you go
Till Fellner will give a recital at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive. Tickets are $10 to $25. Call 410-385-2638 or go to andiemusiklive.com.
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