Alfred Brendel: The Farewell Concerts

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COMPOSERS: Bach,Beethoven,Haydn,Mozart and Schubert
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano); Vienna PO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2116

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This pair of discs comprises live recordings of the last concerts before retirement of Alfred Brendel as pianist – and, rather less gloriously, as vocalist.

For behind the accumulated interpretative insights of his 60-year concert career one is recurrently aware of his wobbly singing along, vocal meanderings that are way off the pitches he is playing.

This is at its most distracting in his last appearance of all, in Mozart’s youthful masterpiece, the Piano Concerto in E flat K271 with the Vienna Philharmonic under Sir Charles Mackerras, recorded in the Musikverein on 18 December 2008.

It’s a pity, for the tragic Andantino generates real intensity, and Brendel’s account of the slow minuet that interrupts the finale is deliciously laid back.

Curiously, the vocal counterpoint is less noticeable in the solo items from the final recital in Hanover on 14 December 2008 – though it is never absent for long.

These – Haydn’s Variations in F minor and Schubert’s last Sonata, in particular – are absolutely core items from the relatively restricted repertoire that Brendel has sustained with such constancy and there are few major interpretative surprises.

But there are additional subtleties – as in his exceptionally fluid variation of tempo in the ornate Andante of Mozart’s F major Sonata, or the veiled tone he finds for the beginning of the Bach/Busoni arrangement comprising his final encore.

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As Brendel himself writes in the inlay notes to his recording: ‘Perhaps I was right to stop concertising at a time when I was still in full command and able to add something to my insights.’ Bayan Northcott