Alfred Brendel may have retired from concert-giving and making recordings, but he remains active and enlightening, and disarmingly witty, and here delivered his third Lecture at Wigmore Hall, this time concerning Mozart.
It’s not possible to note everything Brendel said on this occasion, and anyway this Lecture was recorded; furthermore not every word was discernible, due in part to the speaker’s distinctive Austrian accent and also to the sound-system that ‘swallowed’ some syllables and also ‘aged’ the commercial tapings included.
Nevertheless, Brendel gave us much food for thought, that music transcends personality and that restraint is a significant ingredient to being a great composer. He says that contrary to opinions from Mozart’s own time he sees the composer as being an “explorer” and cites the development section of Symphony 40’s Finale as being “nearly a twelve-tone row” (one note short, I think). He then discussed the art of legato, and that the pedal resources to be found on a modern piano are best able to sustain the continuity of a vocal-like line.
Brendel still plays the piano as a master, and did so here, including a little Schubert (part of an Impromptu) and of course morsels of Mozart. Across the Arts Brendel places Mozart on a par with Raphael and Shakespeare and finds his Piano Concertos to be fusions of chamber music, opera and symphony. We listened to Brendel’s Decca recording of the slow movement of Piano Concerto No.9 (E-flat, K271) with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic, a searching version that stresses the music’s harmonic adventurousness.
Brendel remarked that Mozart’s minor-key Piano Concertos (K466 & K491) point the way to Beethoven, and although he has his own strong (immovable) opinions he was happy to introduce quotations about Mozart from Busoni, András Schiff and Schnabel. Other areas for comment involved cadenzas, dynamics, phrasing (not least involving pairs of notes and those that are detached) and ornamentation, and that “character disturbing” should be avoided when performing Mozart; examples of wrong and right – as Brendel perceives both – were delivered from the keyboard; here was wisdom in full flight.
Brendel ended on a high, his recording with Sir Neville Marriner of the Finale of Piano Concerto No.19 (F-major, K459), life-enhancing and contrapuntally ingenious music. If there are to be further Brendel Lectures at Wigmore Hall – hope so – and in the form of a further triptych, let them feature Busoni, Haydn and Liszt.