Bach: Inventionen und Sinfonien/Französische Suite V – Fellner (ECM New Series 2043)


Johann Sebastian Bach
Inventionen und Sinfonien/Französische Suite V

Till Fellner piano
Recorded July 2007, Mozartsaal, Wiener Konzerthaus
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

What is a “Bach interpreter”? Is it someone who draws from creative reserves to put as unique a spin as possible on much-performed repertoire? Must s/he be selfless and allow the music to “speak for itself”? After a four-year wait, Austrian pianist Till Fellner follows up his humble ECM debut recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with the often overshadowed Two and Three Part Inventions, through which he answers these questions with one of his own: However Bach is painted, what is the image being maintained?

From note one, this is a clearer, more present album than Fellner’s somewhat murkier (and no less affecting) WTC. He holds up every piece to his jeweler’s eye, that we might better see its overall prismatic nature. His rhythms are protean and proper, giving the faster movements just enough pep to gain savory traction while lacing the slower ones with a luxuriant sweetness. As with his last studio effort, Fellner shows a profound ability to draw out the denser implications of the latter (particularly Inventions No. 6 and No. 7; Sinfonias No. 2, No. 6, and No. 7). The more rapid flights are so clearly separated in his fingers that one never gets lost in their overload of grace. From the gravid yet fluid treads of Inventions No. 4 and No. 8 to the trill-infused menagerie of No. 10 and the invigorating No. 13, each instructive development unfolds a new page in this evolving book. Two Sinfonias—No. 11 and No. 15—grow especially more complex with each new listen. Their aquatic transparency and sweeping runs bow like a servant at court to a faceless monarch of sound. Fellner caps the program with a spacious rendition of Bach’s French Suite No. 5. Showing again his supreme pacing in the opening Allemande, he continues through a must-stop-whatever-you’re-doingly gorgeous Sarabande on his way to a winged Gigue.

Intended as the Inventions were as mere didactic exercises, their lines are unmitigated and succinct. Yet for all their brevity, a macrocosm of chords swings between its molecular monkey bars. Fellner plays utterly pianistically, and in doing so makes no qualms about the newness his style can bring. The variable volume of the instrument is taken full advantage of by Fellner, who allows choice notes to ring out and descend. In doing so, he manages to pull off an astounding feat: reinvigorating Bach with utter complacency. Says Fellner of these pieces: “Literally every note counts.” But when he plays, it all comes down to one.

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