CARNEGIE HALL | Vladimir Feltsman

[the first Grandioso motif from Liszt’s B Minor Sonata]

Friday, December 4, 2009 at 8 PM
Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage

Vladimir Feltsman, Piano

SCHUBERT | Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960
SCHUBERT | “Der Müller und der Bach,” S. 565, No. 2 (arr. Liszt)
SCHUBERT | “Wohin?,” S.565, No. 5 (arr. Liszt)
LISZT | Sonata in B Minor

Dreamy programming and thrilling pianism made this a night to behold. Fairly quiet on the scene, though established in his celebrity for more than two decades since emigrating from Moscow, the 57-year-old Vladimir Feltsman may have earned himself a new army of devotees with this recital.

Recalibrations of rhythm and inspired incursions by the left hand—to be initially reductive—contributed much to what was an unusually stirring, oxygenating account of the Schubert D. 960 sonata. Simply put: last night I experienced this keystone work anew. Feltsman’s protracted fermatas and liberal rubatos had the effect of sliding the composition apart from within, giving rich pause and air to its still elusive, always still explorable interiors. From each lull, new glow. There was thoughtful love here that shared with us its intimate discoveries—neither obscure idiosyncrasy nor showy mystification as I imagine some Schubert aficionados in the audience might protest. But what purists decry as exaggeration is so often empathy more courageous than theirs. The classical Feltsman (his reputation steeped in Mozart and Bach) emerged with all crispness, anyway, upon arriving at the triplets section of the first movement. If there was Bachian lucidity and Mozartian elegance, however, throughout one could also hear ghostings in mood of Scriabin, Debussy, even (I hallucinated) Ligeti, and a chord or two near the end of the first movement took on the air of tone clusters. (These last were not finger slippages, though there were a forgivable few in this concert.) A principle of dilation continued to illuminate the second movement, made all space for its meditative hesitations, murky withdrawals, near-vanishings. In the Scherzo Feltsman’s way of shifting between scintillating fluency and richer, stranger musing became particularly notable. The Allegro evinced a committed interest in the particulars of agitation, and in this concluding movement’s moments of self-collecting unto cheer Feltsman delivered both sparkle and wistfulness. I hope he will record this work. It was a truly memorable interpretation that one’d want to savor again and keep learning from.

After performances of Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert’s “Der Müller und der Bach” and “Wohin?” from Die schöne Müllerin that threaded the vocal lines of the original Lieder through the piano scoring with gorgeous lyricism, Feltsman descended as if inevitably into the great Liszt Sonata—with the minutest of pauses, none at all for applause to the foregoing. His approach to this work, completed 25 years after Schubert’s 1728 sonata, was concentrated and undaunted intensity—amounting to a dramatic unveiling of yet another order of his formidable abilities. I cannot remember the last time I heard such a gripping rendering of the Grandioso development. Nearly every appearance of it last night felt like the slow, reverberant unlatching of a giant vault ceiling until one began to see sky. In the fugue section, method was clearly there to keep at bay the encroachments of madness, and of course Feltsman made sure that madness nonetheless burnt through and eventually surged into the open. In driving up Lisztian frenzies to a perilous pitch he was fearless. The quieter passages offered delicate simplicity but also sinuous nestling in nooks of lyricism, e.g., the Andante sostenuto that begins to draw toward an end. The final iteration of the descending motif, a descent of no return whatever the lingering final notes, left in its wake all time and barely breath.

Liszt’s Liebesträume No. 3: the perfect encore.

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