Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major (1849) [19:15]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major (1839) [21:48]
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses * (excerpts): Cantique d’amour [6:18]; Bénédiction de dieu dans la solitude [15:38]; Funérailles [10:57]
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Vienna Pro Musica/Michael Gielen
REGIS RRC1362 [73:56]

Brendel was born in 1931 so these have to be early recordings made when he was in his twenties. In fact it was during the 1950s that his first studio sessions took place. These 1950s mono recordings serve to confirm his stature as a brilliant, authoritative keyboard artist.

Certainly there is commendable command and fiery passion in the young Brendel’s reading of Liszt’s more virtuosic First Piano Concerto coupled with lyricism and poetic finesse. Just listen to the clarity and precision of the quicksilver runs, the double-octave leaps, the glistening arpeggios and the searching qualities of the pianissimo moments in the quasi adagio section. Brendel’s virtuosity and poetry also inform his reading of Liszt’s Second Concerto which is less extrovert but no less demanding technically.

Gielen’s accompaniments vary from the so-so to the worthy.

The Harmonies poétiques et religieuses comprise ten pieces. Sadly only three are included on this disc. Pity - it would have been so interesting and instructive to have had Brendel’s early thoughts on such pieces from this collection as the wonderful opening ‘Invocation’, and the torment and ecstasy of ‘Pensées des Morts’ both of which, I believe, appeared, additionally, on the original Vanguard recordings - but on another LP than the one on which the above concertos appeared. The lyrical, secular Cantique d’amour has sweetly flowing romantic poétique meanderings peaking in passionate demonstrative staccatos. Brendel’s reading has limpid beauty and sizzling ardour. The Bénédiction de dieu dans la solitude has the peace and serenity of the cloister and, one might imagine, the cool, tumbling splashings of nearby fountains before religious exultations might be heard climaxing within the church. Funérailles begin in dark solemn majesty with a heavy bass tread. Gloomy tolling is evident and one might imagine being summoned to the funeral of some mighty personage judging by the volcanic climax.

The sound is quite acceptable for its age if a tad over-reverberant and shrill at times.

[*Readers might be interested to know that there is a 35-CD box set, from the budget BRILLIANT record company that contains Brendel’s complete solo and concerted discs for the Vox, Turnabout, and Vanguard labels, recorded prior to the long affiliation with Philips that helped cement his international career. As one commentator wrote, “Although Brendel generally does not look kindly upon his distant discographical past he certainly has little for which to apologize here, musically and pianistically.”]

Brendel is imposing on this early Vox reissue.

Ian Lace

Brendel is imposing on this early Vox reissue.