Till Fellner is an Austrian pianist hardly in the international spotlight, but he deserves praise for his masterful execution of Julius Reubke's "Piano Sonata in B-flat minor." I don't know why such standard fare as Schumann's "Kreisleriana" was paired with Reubke's work. There are many recordings of the Schumann, but Fellner gives substantial interpretations. His pianism is outstanding and I think he knows how to exploit the dynamics and gestures of Schumann's music. In my review, I will be geared towards discussing Fellner's efforts with Reubke rather than Schumann.
Julius Reubke (1834-1858), like Tausig, was a Liszt pupil with enormous potential who died too early to make a significant mark on music history. In his Liszt biography, Alan Walker mentions that Reubke was Liszt's favorite pupil and that he was also considered a genius in the Liszt circle. Only a handful of his compositions have survived the ravages of time and almost none are played today. At least the organ repertory has been enriched with his "Organ Sonata in C minor," inspired by Liszt's "Fantasy and Fugue on a Theme of Meyerbeer." But the great "Piano Sonata in B-flat minor," dedicated to Liszt himself, is still on the fringe of the literature. There are a few recordings out there, but at least two that I've heard are lackluster (The Sonata of Julius Reubke | Reubke: Sonata). I have yet to hear Claudius Tanski's version on the CPO label (Reubke: 94th Psalm), but he is probably the best contender with Till Fellner.
After reading about Liszt's "Sonata in B minor," one might get the impression that there were no other important large-scale monothematic sonatas written after Liszt's. Felix Draeseke's Op. 6 (Felix Draeseke: Piano Sonata) and Sergei Lyapunov's Op. 27 (Lyapunov: Piano Works) are tremendously convincing specimens based on Liszt's model. But of all these epic piano sonatas written in the wake of Liszt's, I think Reubke's is the finest. While his sonata is conceived as a single-movement (29-minute) work, it is divided into three tracks on this disc. The first, marked "Allegro maestoso," opens with menacing gestures and melodic features similar to Liszt's own "Malediction" for piano and orchestra. Liszt's Sonata is also a clear influence and Reubke balances extroverted dramatic passages with gentle rhapsodic respites.
The "Andante sostenuto" section is a powerful expressive statement, replete with passionate cries and ecstatic declamations. Compared to other renditions I've heard, Fellner plays this with technical polish and genuine emotional attachment. The tranquil moments of the "Andante" quickly change to diabolical frenzy in the "Allegro assai" section. Reubke continues with expert thematic transformation, virtuosic exploitation of the piano, and unbridled emotion. In Alan Walker's estimation, the Reubke sonata is "a work of formidable originality." William Newman, in his Sonata Since Beethoven volume, also gives a good evaluation of the work: "Reubke's greatest talent appears in his impressively sonorous use of the piano, especially his dramatic rhapsodic thrusts, his ingenious runs, and his stentorian chords." That this piano sonata exists only proves what good items the standard repertoire has left behind.
Bottom line: This recording is a must-have for anyone who values the music of Liszt since Reubke was a true disciple of the master. Reubke's Piano Sonata is one of those minor-masterpieces of the 19th century and deserves to be at the forefront. Compared to other out-of-print recordings and uninspired performances, this Fellner/Apex budget-priced release is the essential CD for exploring the music of Reubke.