WORKS: Piano Concerto in A minor; Fantasie in C
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano)Philharmonia Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling
CATALOGUE NO: 462 321-2
Brendel’s new CD leaps straight into the top rank of recordings of both Schumann works: but the top rank turns out to be quite crowded. Of all the fine recordings of the concerto, the benchmark for me has to be Martha Argerich’s blazing performance on Teldec. Right from that wonderful arresting opening, which Argerich tosses off with truly Byronic bravura, she brings out all the impetuous springtime freshness of the music. But in the midst of the onrush she suddenly makes you aware of the darker, more Romantic colours lurking beneath the music’s genial surface. Brendel brings out the Romanticism of the music by a different route; less the hob-goblins and elfin dances of twilight, more the poet musing at his reflection in a brook. His is a more musing, lovingly placed performance. One hesitates to use the word ‘thoughtful’ — ‘the thoughtful Brendel’ has become a music writer’s cliche to rank with ‘the silver-haired Karajan’ — but it’s the right one. The very beautiful recorded sound adds to the sense of intimate inward communion.
The tremendous Fantasie requires from the pianist an enormous range of pacing and mood, from the most fragile evocation of a memory, where the music speaks in whispers, to the triumphal march of the second movement. Brendel captures them all, and, more importantly, exactly judges the transitions between them. If I still prefer Richter’s 1961 version on EMI – despite the inferior sound – it’s because there’s a kind of magisterial strength to his performance which sweeps the subtleties — of which there are many – into an overall vision. The Brendel, superb though it is in many ways, can sometimes be too sensitive for its own good. Ivan Hewett