Beethoven: Bagatelles, Opp. 33, 119 & 126; Bagatelle in A minor (Für Elise); Rondo in C, Op. 51

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Bagatelles, Opp. 33, 119 & 126; Bagatelle in A minor (Für Elise); Rondo in C, Op. 51
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 456 031-2
Brendel is so much the ‘great man’ these days, the icon of musical integrity, the profound, probing and authoritative master of music which, in Schnabel’s phrase, is ‘better than it can be played’, that we easily forget the high place of wit and humour in his musical arsenal. These supposed ‘trifles’ (the literal translation of ‘bagatelle’) contain some of Beethoven’s most profound and beautiful music, but they also have their fair share of jokes, and Brendel is keenly alive to every one of them. The subtle rhythmic displacements, the exaggeratedly jerky accents and the feigned innocence (Who? Me?) are deployed with an audibly poker face and a welcome lack of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink self-consciousness that so easily turns the wit here into caricature. At a more serious level, he almost abrasively highlights the staggering modernity, originality and sheer strangeness of this most Shakespearean of composers, whose symbolic exploration of human experience is unparalleled. A further bonus is the inclusion of two fascinating and seldom-performed bagatelles in all but name (the C minor Allegretto and B flat Klavierstück), an impeccably paced account of the charming C major Rondo and a rendering of the over-familiar Für Elise which should be required listening for all piano students and their teachers. Jeremy Siepmann