Out of Doors - Müller
Ars Produktion ARS 38 204
Classical - Instrumental
Bartók: Szabadban (Out of Doors)
Messiaen: "L'Alouette calandrelle" from Catalogue d'oiseaux
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 15 "Pastoral"
Fabian Müller (piano)
Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 20, 2016
This is not the Swiss composer Fabian Müller, but the young (1990) German pianist by the same name who, last month, had the opportunity to present himself in the Recital Hall of the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in a programme called ‘Cello classics and daring pianism’, together with Korean cellist Stella Cho and Korean pianist Jayoung Kim. This concert took place in the framework of “The International Holland Music Sessions”, which “supports young, talented musicians and utilizes its international network in order to discover such musical talents. In addition, it helps young musicians on their way to the international concert circuit”. And, indeed, Müller ‘daringly’ demonstrated that he aims ‘high’ with Brahms' Intermezzi and Beethoven's "Appassionata" on the menu.
The same is true for his debut recording ‘Out of Doors’ for ARS-Produktion, to be released next month. Here he courageously tackles Ravel’s ‘Miroirs’ and another Beethoven sonata: Op. 28 ‘Pastorale’. The idea of a link to nature and the chosen title is clearly inspired by Béla Bartók’s ‘Shabadban’, Hungarian for ‘out of doors’ and Friedrich Schiller’s abstract thoughts on ‘walking in the open’.
For many, including me, one of the foremost champions of Ravel’s piano music was Vlado Perlemutter. His legendary ‘Miroirs’, recorded in 1983 by Nimbus Records, taken from an initial release in 1979, still ranks among the best. Comparing Müller with Perlemutter led to a pleasant surprise: His ‘toucher’ is light and very French, with that subtle, impressionist shading so typical for much of Ravel’s piano music. No wonder, if one takes into account that Pierre-Laurent Aimard stood at the cradle of his piano studies at the Musikhochschule Köln (Cologne University of Music). Having said that, it may be clear that a life time lies between the two and that Müller has not yet reached the same natural fluidity and contemplating coherence. But he certainly is on the right and promising track.
For Bartók I have no comparison at my disposal. I therefore have to judge him more or less at face value. It would seem important to retain de folkloristic background, which has always been part of Bartok’s language, elevating it into a personal, musical expression of art. Among the younger generation there is a tendency speeding up ‘With Drums and Pipes’ as though it is proof of angry virtuoso. Treating the piano like a percussion instrument, as Müller does is, however, perfectly right: Firstly, because the piano is a percussion instrument; and secondly, and perhaps more to the point, Bartók was a percussionist by formation. In Müller’s well-judged performance it makes for maximum contrast with the following Barcarolla.
Though generally played as a suite, these are, in Bartók’s own words, "five fairly difficult piano pieces", with no.4 ‘The Night's Music’, the longest of them all, often played separately. Müller takes a leisurely tempo, which suits the sounds of the night well. The final piece is not ‘fairly’ but ‘very’ difficult, perhaps the most difficult in Bartók’s entire output. Müller does not falter in the face of the closing ‘Hetzjagd’ (The chase, or rather, the mad rush) he seems to take particular pride in doing it even a bit faster than average. Too fast? I don’t think so; it remains within audible speed limits.
Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Catalogue d’oiseaux’ is not only about birds, but also about colours, as is, by the way, much of the rest of his music. Birdsong has always fascinated him. From this catalogue, Book 5, Fabian Müller plays ‘L’Allouette candrelle’, subtitled: ‘Chaleur et solitude du désert de la Crau’ (Greater short-toed lark / heat and solitude in the Grau desert - the South of France). As an unconventional composer Messiaen depicts a day’s life of this bird in shades of tones of various lengths, which Müller eagerly complies with in amazing surrealism.
The final piece on this disk, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ sonata is, in a way, completely out of ‘tune’. Of course, the binding factor is the ‘out of doors’ concept, but the contrast with the foregoing couldn’t be bigger. Born in Bonn, having received the ‘Beethoven Bonnensis advancement award’ and being ‘Artist in Residence at the Beethoven-Akademie’, does create a special link with this composer. Thus it would seem that for a debut SACD there is some logic in including a Beethoven sonata in a programme aiming at showing the versatility of this young talent. It furthermore allows the less ‘contemporain’ listener a welcome rest after having consumed the other ‘demanding’ works.
Does it mean that Müller takes a risk knowing that competition in the field of Beethoven sonatas is fierce? In de SACD domain there are 9 other versions of the ‘Pastoral’. Experts will and always have differed in their opinions on who are the champions. Be that as it may, I think it is unfair to compare a young performer with what some regard as the best. The more so, because there are many more ‘better and best’ versions than one can count on the fingers of both hands. In this case it is, for me, in the first place a matter of answering the question: ‘Does Müller live up to the required standard’. Putting it this way, the answer is ‘Yes’, or rather: Yes by all means. What he does is as accomplished and faultless ‘Beethoven’ as one could wish for.
Though scholars are divided on whether the nick name ‘pastoral’ is linked to inner peace and calm, or, in line with the Out of Doors concept, to the country side, Müller’s leisurely taken interpretation has clearly opted for the second, moulding his rendition into one that follows the inescapable vicissitudes of nature: ‘come rain or come shine’.
A wonderful conclusion to a debut ‘on record’, asking for more to come.
Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net