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Haydn's Andante and Variations in F Minor (Hob. XVII:6) had charm and a lyrical quality that emerged in the spry sections. If there was a tad too much pedal at times and a heavy-handed sort of weight to the trills, the warmth and expression with which Wilson played counterbalanced those moments.
Wilson produced pretty watercolors in four preludes by Debussy, and especially reveled in the rhythms of "La Cathedrale Engloutie" and the brighter hues of "Minstrels."
-- Grace Jean
Just when you thought Austrian pianist Till Fellner had reached a sublime peak with his recital opener at the National Gallery of Art Sunday, he transported you to even loftier realms as his performance continued. The 34-year-old Fellner first gained European recognition in 1993 as first-prize winner at the Clara Haskil International Competition -- and not just because of brilliant technical feats. He also has a spellbinding way of conveying the essence of a work with pensive dignity and a commanding yet modest presence.
The evening began with Beethoven's early Sonata in F, Op. 10, No. 2, in which Fellner portrayed the full impact of the composer's fearless chordal assaults and their constant conflict with nimbly rendered statements of utter grace. The rondo finale was treated with percussive fury as it sped along in ever-intensifying fugal episodes. Fellner transformed the technical logic of Bach's 15 Three-Part Inventions, BWV 787-801, into a cast of characters sculpted as deftly as those in a Mozart opera. No. 2 throbbed with pathos, No. 8 cavorted jubilantly, No. 12 was regally triumphant. Fast tempos never flagged, and the pianist consistently kept sight of Bach's driving rhythmic pulse.
As in the Beethoven and Bach, careful pedaling and perfect timing of the striking pauses in Schubert's late Sonata in A, D. 959, turned the ultra-resonant acoustics of the West Garden Court to advantage. Fellner immersed the Schubert in reverence while conveying the tragic impulses and stupefying magnitude of this music, composed two months before the composer died at 31. Fellner overlooked none of the sonata's unconventional structure, one based on unmoored, volatile mood fluctuations adrift in elusive Viennese foreboding. The Rondo finale was a sheer act of transfiguration. An enthralled audience applauded wildly for an encore, but Fellner commendably didn't comply, for nothing could cap his Schubert.
-- Cecelia Porter