This is a story of bad news compensated by good news. The bad news is that Till Fellner, who was scheduled to have his San Francisco debut on February 2 in the San Francisco Performances Piano Series, has sustained a strained muscle in his left hand. Treatment will require four weeks of physical therapy and a reduced practice schedule, so he will not be able to give his debut concert as scheduled.
The good news is that the February 2 recital will still take place, and the pianist will be Juho Pohjonen. This young Finnish pianist had his San Francisco debut last night in Davies Symphony Hall with Marek Janowski conducting the San Francisco Symphony in a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 37 piano concerto in C minor. Ironically, I first became acquainted with Fellner through his ECM New Series recording of Beethoven’s two subsequent concertos, Opus 58 in G major and Opus 73 in E-flat major, with Kent Nagano conducting the Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal. One does not expect to find Beethoven on a label with a reputation for “new music.” However, the chemistry between Fellner and Nagano resulted in a refreshingly innovative approach to Beethoven that did not distort the score with outré mannerisms.
Those who read my account of last night’s chemistry between Pohjonen and Janowski know that their approach to Beethoven also achieved that elusive goal of novelty without distortion. This is a pianist who deserves considerably more listening attention and the fate of Fellner’s disability has provided an opportunity for that attention. He will not be playing more Beethoven, but he has prepared a program that should give us a clear sense of his rhetorical approach across a variety of styles of composition.
Pohjonen will begin with the four B minor compositions in the 27th “Ordre” (suite) by François Couperin, the last of these suites composed between 1713 and 1730 and published in four volumes. This will then be “reflected” by Maurice Ravel’s suite of four compositions, which he entitled “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” Pohjonen will then “reflect” Couperin from a different angle, so to speak, with a performance of another keyboard suite from the same time period, the B-flat major HWV 434 of George Frideric Handel; and this “reflection” will then be “reflected” by the Opus 24 of Johannes Brahms, which is a set of variations and fugue on the theme of the third movement of Handel’s suite. One rarely encounters a program so elegantly conceived, making for a rich abundance of listening experiences.
This recital will still take place on February 2 at 8 PM in Herbst Theatre. Its Web page on the San Francisco Performances Web site has now been installed, and tickets may be purchased from there for $60, $50, and $35. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-392-2545.