October 26, 2016

Breakfast of penitence

Today I ate for breakfast my words about Till Fellner.  What made me change my mind about this pianist was his playing of Bach - not the hideously disembodied floating-in-vacuum studio recordings he made for the ECM label, but broadcast recordings of his recitals where he played selections from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier.  Having long given up on Glenn Gould's juvenile pranksterism and Sviatoslav Richter's Soviet-Industrial grimness, I found Fellner's calm, reflective, Apollonian approach to Bach very attractive.  I doubt I'll ever hear a more telling example of what Charles Rosen had in mind when he described Bach's keyboard music as deeply private and meditative.

Those of you who have been waiting for an opportunity to vindicate your suspicion that I can be as much of a judgmental doofus as any professional music critic now can do so with these Fellner performances from Schwarzenberg (BWV 874-877, VIII.24.2014), Rohrnbach (BWV 878-881, VI.25.2015), and Hohenems (BWV 888-893, X.7.2016).


John Smith said...

I beg your pardon, but, in general, I prefer to hear Bach's keyboard music on an instrument he might conceivably have written it for.

Boom said...


I take it you mean that Bach composed his works for a harpsichord digitally recorded in a studio, with subsequent electronic manipulations of equalization and dynamics, then played through a pair of speakers or headphones?

Unless, that is, you own a harpsichord and play it in your home or have someone play it for you - which is the way Bach thought this music would be heard.

(Also, at the risk of sounding pedantic, the actual title does not refer to any particular instrument at all, only to those which employ a keyboard, and this of course applies to a modern Steinway grand piano.)

alfred venison said...

thanks for the files. apollonian's appealing on any keyboard. -cheers, a.v.

alfred venison said...

it is as if it breathes: phrase by phrase; figure by figure; dove tailings, over lappings, various extensions & sequences, always rendered with exquisitely tasteful attention to the lines as tunes. far from bach the relentless logician beloved of so many. hearing for the third time today, this aptly named apollonian interpretation has been the most satisfying bach i have heard for very many years. thanks again. -a.v.

Charlot said...

Music is so hard to write about and it gets even more difficult when a recording device gets in the way.

It does not surprise me a bit that you have a different reaction to Fellner on hearing these performances.

If you had not heard them on recordings but heard them live in the house, your reaction might have been different again.

Years ago, I heard Klaus Tennstedt conduct the Beethoven and Brahms Third Symphonies. Even though I didn't agree with his interpretive choices, he had a way of carrying you away and I left the concert transported.

A couple of days later, I heard those same performances on the radio. It didn't have the same effect at all. Everything about my doubts were magnified and everything about the sound of it was somehow stripped away.

Hearing past-the-microphone can be difficult and I realized why many of the Furtwaengler recordings that I find mediocre may have had great merit in person.

Anyhow, all the best to you. I enjoy your provocative opinions and will certainly take a second look at Roger Sessions.