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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Beethoven Alfred Brendel (piano), Royal Festival Hall, 22 June, 2005 (CC)



What a magnificent way to close the Spring 2005 International Piano Series. Playing just prior to the closure of the hall for a refit (and therefore next year’s series will be held at the QEH - perhaps why the usual name of Pollini is absent - (he is scheduled to play at the Barbican (editor’s note))- this seasoned performer played to his strengths magnificently. For those of us who had been expecting a Haydn Sonata to close the recital (whose programme note had 'inadvertently' been included in the season's booklet), it was a pleasant surprise to see Beethoven, one of Brendel's several gods, there instead.


But first Mozart, the late Duport Variations, K573 of 1789. Brendel's art was evident from the very beginning. The way he managed to project the simple, imbuing innocence with depth of experience and simultaneously sounding absolutely like Brendel contained the essence of his art. Left-hand clarity was exemplary (Variation I); balance was everywhere exquisite and the playfulness of Mozart's character was able to shine through.


Schumann's Kreisleriana poses huge technical problems. Brendel seemed to have little truck with any of them in a reading that eschewed the virtuoso (it must be so tempting to show off if one can play that opening - a temptation Horowitz yielded to unapologetically, I seem to remember). Brendel went for an organic unfolding instead, opening a thread of ideas that ran inevitably through the whole work. His 'Sehr innig' second movement again refused to go to extremes (it is easy to over-internalize here), yet his Florestanisch middle section nevertheless retained that character's fire. Another facet of Brendel's reading of Kreisleriana was that he seemed to make the work refer to Baroque models in its contrapuntal workings, an idea that seemed to square with the positively organ-like impression of 'the 'Sehr aufgeregt' section. Brendel could be radiant, too, his tonal palette huge.


Schubert is another composer Brendel has close links with, and this bouquet of three Moments musicaux from D780 (Nos. 1, 2 and 4) did not disappoint. Interestingly, the first was actually fairly impulsive, with the pianist basking in moments of great beauty. Similarly, the second (A flat) had an unexpected underlying urgency, coupled with a sense of monumental contrast. To instill this feeling in what is essentially a miniature was quite remarkable. Finally the C sharp minor, for which Brendel chose a Bach-like toccata touch, slightly hard and very effective, especially as he went on to underline the darker shadows present.


Beethoven's wonderful 'Pastoral' Sonata (D major, Op. 28) closed the recital. The repeated bass D of the opening was less pulsating, more insistent, giving a clue that Brendel was never going to give a 'comfortable' reading. And indeed that was the case. Textures were superbly balanced. The second movement (Andante) travelled to further emotional panes than with most (simply magnificent left-hand staccato!), while in the Scherzo Brendel seemed to delight in Beethoven's modernity of thought. He dared to play the finale in a wonderfully intimate way the right-hand piping over the bed of sound provided by the left. Again, an organic viewpoint meant that all fell beautifully into place, the end the natural result of the preceding.



A superb recital to a packed house that saw Brendel on top form.



Colin Clarke


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