Alfred Brendel: A Birthday Tribute

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Brahms,Mozart,Schubert
WORKS: Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1; Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503; Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110; Schubert: Impromptu in F minor, D935 No. 1
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano); Bavarian Radio SO/Colin Davis; SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg SO/Hans Zender
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2604


A great pianist is not necessarily a ‘big’ pianist (Clara Haskil, for instance; Horszowski; or Casadesus). Alfred Brendel is unmistakably both. This has little or nothing to do with volume, though here, as ever, he commands a tonal palette of truly panoramic breadth and depth. It has a lot to do with richness, character and variety of sonority, but this again is not a matter of acoustics.

Brendel’s ‘bigness’ resides primarily in the quality and scope of his musical vision, and in his seamless amalgamation of drama, spiritual intensity and thought. Everything has its place yet nothing sounds contrived. Brendel is an intellectual but not, at the piano, a lecturer. He illuminates but never pontificates. 
Seldom has his capacity for symphonic synthesis found nobler or more stirring expression than in the present reading of the Brahms D minor Concerto. Detail is subordinated to large-scale design without a hint of emotional wing-clipping. Nor is movement ever sacrificed on the much-abused altar of metre. Throughout, intimacy, heroism and tragedy are conveyed
as aspects of the whole experience.
Nothing could serve as a more effective foil to the young Brahms’s almost forbidding seriousness than Brendel’s effervescent yet very substantial account of the Mozart Concerto, K503. With richness of characterisation, quickness of pick-up, and the alternation of sublime oratory and witty dialogue, Brendel and his conductor Hans Zender remind us at almost every turn that Mozart was first, last and always an opera composer. Particularly in the finale, the performance, and the music, had me wreathed in smiles of sheer delight. As to the solo items, suffice it to say that Brendel is at the top of his form. Jeremy Siepmann