WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K271; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K503
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano); Scottish CO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: 470 287-2
Brendel’s Mozart has an instinctive rightness and authority rare among pianists of any era. Compared with his Seventies recordings, with Marriner and the ASMF, these new performances are that much more reflective, the tone often leaner but even more subtly coloured than before. Yet Brendel retains the gift, priceless in Mozart, of knowing when to be simple. Tempi tend to be a notch slower, phrasing less volatile; and if you want a more impish view of the outer movements of the groundbreaking Jeunehomme Concerto (No. 9), then Brendel’s recording with Marriner is as fine as any. Brendel’s playing on this new disc, though full of spirit, is more gracious and lyrical, with stronger emphasis on the broad singing line. His shaping of the opening movement’s second subject is a model of unforced eloquence; and here and elsewhere you notice how closely Brendel listens to the orchestra. Throughout the disc, in fact, there is exceptional unanimity of viewpoint between pianist and orchestra. The woodwind soloists phrase as persuasively as the pianist. And while the players use ‘modern’ instruments – save for agreeably rasping natural brass – Mackerras gets the strings to play with authentically light bow strokes and pared-down vibrato.
Brendel was always ahead of the game in decorating the spare lines of Mozart’s slow movements; and his embellishments in the Andante of the C major – more radical than in his 1978 recording – are models of taste and expressiveness. As before, he crowns his unusually thoughtful, unshowy performance of the C major’s first movement (listen, for instance, to his musing, introspective way with the solo themes in the recapitulation), with his own apt cadenza. Here, though, he adds a new twist, seizing on a passing resemblance between one of Mozart’s themes and the ‘Marseillaise’, and momentarily conjuring an unlikely vision of the composer as republican sans-culotte. Among the glut of modern rival versions, Perahia (Sony) and Schiff (Decca) are both outstanding, though for my money Brendel’s inventive, intellectually probing performances have the edge on all rivals. Richard Wigmore