October 1, 2011

A Perfect Pianist

Years ago I had  what must have been a Perfect Girlfriend: she was good looking, young (early twenties), intelligent (earned a Ph.D. from a top school a few years later), erudite in the visual arts, and musically informed.  She also was honest, kind,  and optimistic.  Not once did she have a headache or lose her temper fighting traffic on LA freeways.

Despite my Perfect Girlfriend's long list of virtues, what I remember most vividly about the time I spent with her is my persistent feeling of boredom.  She had everything I could ever ask for in a woman except personality.  There was something so anonymous about her that when our relationship ended I only felt a sense of relief as I went back to dating cynical secretaries, neurotic two-bit actresses, disillusioned MILFs, and tattooed heavy metal chicks - all so abundantly distributed along the coast of Southern California as if God himself wanted to make life easy for a young guy of modest means and immodest libido.

To be reminded of my Perfect Girlfriend by a piano recital, it takes a very special pianist indeed!  The pianist must have it all: scholarly respect for the score, unforced and well-oiled technique, aversion to interpretative eccentricities, intelligent repertoire choices, and much more.  And the pianist must combine these virtues to produce performances in which not a single note is out of place, yet which also are so lacking in personality as to make Alfred Brendel's playing sound almost flamboyant by comparison.  At present I can think of no better candidate for the pianistic counterpart of my Perfect Girlfriend than the Austrian pianist Till Fellner; and I think his recent live broadcasts (e.g., from Wigmore Hall and WGBH Boston) offer ample support for this nomination.

Of course I'm fully aware that Fellner is a darling of many critics, with Anthony Tommasini all but drooling on his computer keyboard when writing adulatory fanboy reviews of Fellner's recitals and recordings.*   For all I know, every music lover in the world may have a poster of Till Fellner hanging on a bedroom wall, in which case the only reaction to this post will be along the lines of Fuck you, Boom, you fucking pretentious philistine!

So be it.  I usually hedge my bets when it comes to widely admired pianists whose playing leaves me unmoved (Argerich is one).  But with Till Fellner I circle the wagons, dig in my heels, and draw a line in the sand.

Till Fellner is a Perfect Pianist.


* In fairness to Tommasini I should note that he also drools over other pianists who are relatively young, boyishly handsome, stylishly dressed, and keep their playing free of outsize gestures.  He is the only critic I know who found it appropriate to praise a pianist for wearing a "stylish jacket"(!) in his laudatory review of the pianist's numbingly dull performance of the Brahms B-flat concerto.  (The pianist was Leif Andsness, then still relatively young and 'boyishly handsome'.)



laybl said...

As a life-long Phillies fan, now retired to paradaisical Maine, I've suffered through the ins and outs of the playoffs. Much of the downside I attribute to their pitchers being "squeezed". The strike zone seems to get smaller and smaller...which brings me, logically, to your critical reviews--first, Beethoven lacked tenderness, then Argerich lacked insight, dynamics, quien sabe...and now, Fellner is too perfect, an automaton...three balls, no strikes.

I lack the knowledge to challenge your views, but, I ask myself, why focus on artists who fall short for you? So much music...so little time. On the other hand, you do forewarn.

Boom said...

Laybl said:
>> why focus on artists who fall short for you?

Three reasons:

1. Without performances that "fall short for me" I would not have a full understanding of what exactly makes me admire other performances.

2. Some readers may want to judge for themselves whether or not my assessment of a musician or composer is reasonable.

3. A blog like this is essentially a music-flavored diary, and diaries are meant to record non-trivial disappointments as much as enchanting experiences. My life - as much as anyone else's - consists of both.

Boom said...

Bonjour, cher Coratogia!
Good to see you here.

I see you are still on your quest for interesting Schumann recordings. I wish I could be of help with that broken part of the High Ponytail Gianoli recording, but alas I did not DL it. Somehow I was busy with other things at the time, I suppose, and just forgot about it...

coratogia said...

not a big problem ( said Voltaire , as Grumpy quoted))
thank's anyway
I dont feel at ease in so various blogs (all are so verbose and my english allows me to read-only)

i will try to read with some attention your discussion about 'structure, etc ' and some day (inch' Allah) perhaps I will try to enounce my own theory about music perception..

bye by for to-day

Anonymous said...

Boom: "...and which are so lacking in personality as to make Alfred Brendel's playing sound almost flamboyantly expressive by comparison." Good grief, are you serious!? (of course you are) ?!

Long ago I denounced Brendel for disfiguring *my* Beethoven with his indulgences. Nowadays I can listen to his Schubert, but I usually put on my Kleenex-padded armor if I must be around his Beethoven.

Cheers, --Bob