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Apollo and Dionysus

New York
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
12/04/2009 -  
Franz Schubert: Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Der Müller und der Bach, D. 795, No.23 (arranged by Franz Liszt) – Wohin?, D. 795, No.2 (arranged by Franz Liszt)
Franz Liszt: Sonata in B Minor

Vladimir Feltsman (Pianist)

V. Feltsman (© Al Nowak)

Vladimir Feltsman resides in and frequently commands at least three different universes. He plays a staggering Pictures at an Exhibition from his native Russia. He claims that Bach is his greatest love, and I have heard him do the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue as a 20th Century reincarnation of the Master.

Yet one has the feeling that beneath the superlative Slavic and Baroque is a great big passionate Romantic artist just aching to get out and do his stuff. Such was the material of last night’s concert at Carnegie Hall, with two of the most monumental sonatas of the Romantic period.

First was the Apollo–the tragic Apollo–of Schubert’s B Flat Sonata. Last was the Dionysiac sonata of Franz Liszt. Artfully merging them were two Liszt arrangements of Schubert songs, with an encore of a Liszt “song”, the first Liebestraum, making for a very neat package.

Mr. Feltsman certainly did not disappoint the almost full Stern Auditorium. The Schubert sonata was played–or underplayed–with tight-knit tragedy. For reasons unknown, he did not repeat the exposition of the first movement, so necessary for savoring again the essential materials of the ensuing drama. But Mr. Feltsman extended that drama through the next three movements, without showmanship, without exaggeration (oh, a few forgivable retards) all the way to those last ferocious measures. (After this most unusual work, they always sound like they were tacked on.)

The two Liszt arrangements of Schubert were played without pause. Wohin? and Der Müller und der Bach are totally different designs, but Mr. Feltsman strolled through them as if they were cut from the same fabric, so they both sounded pleasant but unremarkable.

One would have thought that after these bagatelles, Mr. Feltsman would have paused or waited for applause before the Liszt B Minor Sonata. He did neither. Those doom-filled first notes, then, were not the portal to a demon-filled other world, but a casual coda to the Schubert. Not a portentous beginning.

After this, though, Mr. Feltsman plunged into what he does best. With infallible technique, with coiled-up power (not the sheer muscularity of a Bronfman) he worked through the four movements with the dramatic continuity which defies even the best pianists. Mr. Feltsman used to delay this work with some plangent pauses, but here he eschewed his old idiosyncrasies. The fire gave way to color and texture, the consistent high voltage was subservient to the myriad of moods and emotions.

So unified was the sonata that when Mr. Feltsman played the ppp lowest B on the piano, we should have held our breath for Liszt’s final three rest notes. Instead, some lummox called out “Bravo” before Mr. Feltsman had even removed his finger from the key. Liszt’s beloved Dante would have deposited him in a particularly grisly circle of hell.

Vladimir Feltsman’s website

Harry Rolnick



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