Alfred Brendel on Music

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Three lectures: Does classical music have to be entirely serious?; Musical Character as exemplified in Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas; Light and Shade of Interpretation
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano); dir. Mark Kidel (Salzburg Festival, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: 703408 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format)

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There are few more qualified to talk on musical matters of interpretation, articulation and rhetoric than the veteran pianist and octogenarian pedagogue Alfred Brendel. Though retired from the concert platform, Brendel has kept up a busy schedule of public appearances with lectures across Europe. The three lectures on this two-disc set were filmed at the 2010 Salzburg festival and will be familiar to anyone who has read his essays or caught his recent tour.

Those who haven’t, however, are in for a substantial musicological treat, particularly with the first lecture, ‘Does classical music have to be entirely serious?’. Reading at the piano, Brendel takes a serious look at humour, touching on Dvorˇák’s unfunny Humoresques, and Ligeti’s funny ha-ha/funny weird Aventures nouvelles before focusing on the comic in the works of the Viennese Classical composers. There are inevitable touches of comedy within his delivery too: ‘The pianist who has not succeeded in making someone laugh at the end of Beethoven’s [Op. 31] Sonata should become an organist,’ he says, drily.

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Thoughts range from the philosophical to the finer points of interpretative detail that make key viewing for pianists in the two lectures that follow: ‘Musical Character as exemplified in Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas’ and ‘Light and Shade of Interpretation’.  But the only reason these essays really deserve – and only just, in my view – to be watched in director Mark Kidel’s no-frills DVD format rather than read, is to hear Brendel illuminate his thoughts on the piano. It’s his playing that inevitably left me wanting more, albeit more of the score. Nick Shave