The first thing Till Fellner did when we finished taping this studio performance was apologize for his English. He was, as you can hear, eloquent and beautifully spoken, but if you consider his standards of perfection in communicating Beethoven's music at the piano, it's easy to understand his desire to speak with a similar fluency and enlightenment.
Till Fellner tackles all 32 of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas on his current tour.
Till Fellner tackles all 32 of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas on his current tour. Ben Ealovega
His perfectionism also brought him out of the performance studio and into the control room, where he worked with our audio engineer on creating a piano sound that he felt reflected the subtleties and space that the Beethoven Sonatas needed.
The drive to achieve that kind of precision could easily suffocate a normal human, but Fellner carries it around with him as if it were a gift, and he manages to stay wide-eyed and quick to laugh. And humor is important if you happen to be carting all 32 of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas around the world — not only because of the fantastic eruptions of hilarity found in many of the sonatas, but also because of the sheer weight of the responsibility.
Fellner is only thirty-seven years old, and Beethoven seems almost like a living friend to him. He spoke with a sort of understated glee about the fact that the second movement of the "Pastoral" sonata was one of Beethoven's all-time favorites.
Fellner practices a lot, always intent on finding a level of comfort with the piano and the space he's in. He is not demonstrative or overtly choreographed in his physical rapport with the instrument. That's something he perhaps inherited from his teacher, Alfred Brendel, who has been a beacon of light in Fellner's training.
Fellner's aim, it seems, is to disappear, so that Beethoven can emerge brilliantly.