WORKS: works by Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Busoni
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 475 8322
These two discs inaugurate Philips’s series of ‘Artist’s Choice’ for Alfred Brendel, in which he has been accorded the luxury, as many other performers must feel, of raiding the huge number of recordings made of his concerts and studio performances over the years in order to select those he finds most satisfactory, or to use his own favourite word, ‘interesting.’
His repertoire has tended to be rather small, the same composers and works, mainly the Viennese tradition, being explored time and time again. In this performance of Beethoven’s immense Diabelli Variations, from a Festival Hall concert in 2001, we hear Brendel at his quirkiest – a quality he prizes almost above any other.
Diabelli’s theme is played with insouciance, but then, when Beethoven seems to dismiss it with a grand gesture (a pre-echo of the Meistersinger Overture), Brendel remains just as jaunty. There are long passages of staccato, equally long ones where the sustaining pedal is held down.
Unpredictability is the order of the day. In some moods one would welcome this, in others resent it. In the rarer Chopin, Mendelssohn and Busoni, Brendel is less idiosyncratic; but when he returns to Beethoven, the great Op. 101 Sonata, it is to give a weirdly ponderous account.
It would be foolish of a reviewer either to celebrate the oddness of these performances, or berate them for being perverse. They are the product of a searching and unquestionably ‘interesting’ mind. Michael Tanner