In his ECM New Series debut, the insightful Austrian pianist Till Fellner sheds new light on the best-known of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works for clavier, the endlessly inventive collection of preludes and fugues often considered one of the sublime monuments of Western music. This is the music of which Goethe wrote, “It was as if the harmony of the ages were communing with itself, as it may have happened in God's bosom shortly before the creation of the world. So was I, too, moved in my inmost being… ."
“The Well-Tempered Clavier” has of course become one of the most frequently-played of Bach’s compositions and a work to which every classical pianist of distinction feels obliged to bring his or her interpretative perspective – particularly since Glenn Gould’s heyday. Hearing Till Fellner play Book One of “Das wohltemperierte Klavier” at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, ECM producer Manfred Eicher was struck by the selfless manner in which Till Fellner attempted to do the opposite. His focussed and intelligent phrasing eschewed all hint of mannerism: his technique was prodigious, but he was not inflicting anything extraneous upon the work, in fact he was resolute about keeping his own personality at bay while serving Bach’s.
Reviewing the same concert in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Martin Meyer reached similar conclusions: “Till Fellner did not seek to imitate role models. He wanted to steer his own course and it led him to the art of balance. Which means: he sat down at the grand piano and started – one is tempted to say: simply – listening to the music… Thus Fellner knew how to spread out, generously, the diversity of events, in details as well as in the progressive complexity of the entire work…For a performer to come along who refuses to present himself as the unconcerned agent of his own volition but instead reviews his possibilities, develops his skills and proves them with pieces that at any rate reject superficial brilliance, should suit us fine. Till Fellner is on his way.”
In the interim, press reviews have often singled out the lucidity of Fellner’s performances and his “insistence on putting musical sense and sensibility ahead of idle showmanship” (The Observer): this is the constant factor in all of his work, whether playing classical music or contemporary composition – he gets at the heart of the material. And as the New York Times has said, “In his manner and his music-making he exudes calm and elegance.”
In his concert performances in the 2003-04 season, Till Fellner is playing the second book of J. S. Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier”, in a concert cycle where it is variously combined and contrasted with works by Kurtág, Ligeti, Messiaen, Franck, Brahms, and Liszt. The complete cycle will be presented in Vienna, London, Vevey and Deutschlandsberg, and Fellner will also present parts of the cycle in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan, Lyon, Avignon, Munich, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Valencia, Washington, Vancouver and elsewhere…
The live Bach cycle performances are already picking up glowing reviews:
“Perhaps the most satisfying concert this month was at the Wigmore Hall, where Till Fellner gave the first recital in his Well-Tempered Clavier series,” wrote Stephen Everson in British magazine Prospect. “In this first concert he set the Bach against Brahms’s Handel Variations and a selection from Kurtág’s Játékok. A pupil of Brendel, and just into his thirties, Fellner has a sound that is rich yet clearly articulated, as well as a tremendous sense of musical architecture, served by a rigorous control of dynamics. In the Bach he found a different sonority to suit each piece, and shaped each voice within it. It is difficult to imagine a more persuasive reading of the Kurtág, in which Fellner found both wit and poignancy and his Brahms too was witty, as well as grand and delicate by turns. If the recording industry were not so derelict, he would by now have produced a series of major recordings – although, to their credit, ECM are to release the first book of the Bach in the New Year…”
Born 1972 in Vienna, Fellner studied at the Vienna Conservatory with Helene Sedo-Stadler, and subsequently with Meira Farkas and Oleg Maisenberg. He is also a protégé of Alfred Brendel with whom he shares some musical-temperamental affinities. Till Fellner has been praised by the press for his Fellner gained international recognition by winning first prize at the Clara Haskil International Competition in 1993. In 1998 he was awarded the “Mozartinterpretationspreis” of the Mozartgemeinde Wien.
He has performed with many leading orchestras, amongst them Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Camerata Salzburg, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra London, London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductors as Claudio Abbado, Andrew Davis, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Christopher Hogwood, Heinz Holliger, Marek Janowski, Sir Neville Marriner, Kent Nagano, Michel Plasson, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Leonard Slatkin, Claudius Traunfellner, Franz Welser-Möst, Hans Zender, etc. Till Fellner’s chamber music partners include the Alban Berg Quartet, Thomas Zehetmair and Heinrich Schiff, with whom he recorded the Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano, (issued by Philips).