A notable BSO debut set against Haitink’s mellow mastery

April 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Till Fellner performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 with Bernard Haitink and the BSO Thursday night at Symphony Hall. Photo: Stu Rosner

In the central installment of his season-ending three-week stand with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink served up two of his favored composers, framing an impressive BSO debut by pianist Till Fellner Thursday evening at Symphony Hall.

The Austrian pianist, 40, has carved out a high-profile international career over the last decade and is particularly esteemed for his Beethoven, having performed the composer’s complete sonatas last season in New York, London and Vienna. Fellner proved an equally rewarding Mozartian in his BSO bow Thursday night in the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat, K.482.

The E-flat concerto calls for the largest orchestra of all Mozart’s works in the genre with pairs of horns, trumpets, clarinets, bassoons, flute and timpani. Yet, as solo protagonist, Fellner maintained his place in the spotlight, finding an illuminating middle ground between polished elegance and dynamic vigor. The pianist brought an individual rubato to Paul Badura-Skoda’s first-movement cadenza (none by Mozart survive) and in the bleak introspection of the Andante, Fellner’s pointillist shading explored the dark drama of the music without inflating it out of period.

The closing Allegro with its skipping child-song-like main theme was thrown off with a playful touch in Fellner’s lightly sprung style. The soloist eased into the aria-like contrasting motif with heartfelt warmth, threw in some dazzling bravura with Hummel’s slightly anachronistic cadenza, and rounded off the performance with the requisite ebullient charm.

Haitink’s big-boned accompaniment was alert to his soloist if fitfully out of synch with Fellner dynamically. The grandly spun orchestral playing seemed to be looking forward to the Romantic era down the road, while Fellner’s poised d' sarsltepts mandch wew Rococo is " n insarm.

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