Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K271
Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII:6
Piano Sonata in F, K533/494
Piano Sonata in E flat, Op.27/1 (Quasi una fantasia)
Piano Sonata in B flat, D960
Bagatelles, Op.33 – No.4 in A
Impromptus, D899 – No.3 in G flat
Bach, arr. Busoni
Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland, BWV659
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras [Mozart K271]
Concerto recorded 18 December 2008 in Musikverein, Vienna; recital recorded 14 December 2008 in Grosser Sendesaal, Landesfunkhaus Niedersachsen, Hanover
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2009
CD No: DECCA 478 2116 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 21 minutes
This is a wonderful tribute to the artistry of a great musician, Alfred Brendel’s final recital and final concerto. For the last couple of years of his appearances in public, Brendel (born 1931) chose carefully what he played (exclusively the pieces enshrined here, plus the C minor Mozart Concerto, K491) and where he played. It was a world tour pared to repertoire essentials but of unstinting quality.
From Hanover, a recital that Brendel accepted only late in the day should be recorded, the Haydn is shot-through with numerous observations without delay to one of Haydn’s most demonstrative outbursts of emotion; the Mozart Sonata is of ineffable poise and searching. This is followed by a mercurial account of the Beethoven, rugged, profound and truculent.
The recording is vivid and close, and also captures the keen attention of the audience in a positive way, enough to preserve all manner of ‘noises’ that are so representative of Brendel’s involvement with the music. In Schubert’s ultimate Sonata, there is a fluidity, maybe the single finest performance he has ever given of it, fluid and volatile, utterly convincing (even to losing the exposition repeat in the first movement, as was always Brendel’s custom) and visionary in the latter stages of the first movement’s development section. The rest of the performance is just as compelling, spontaneous, Brendel seeming to play with the discovery of first-love yet one imagines too the unburdening of someone who knows that he has nothing to prove and who can enjoy his final concert encounter with music that has been a lifelong companion. Rarely has the finale sounded so joyous.
There follow three encores, no mere Bagatelle this piece of Beethoven, a Schubert Impromptu loaded with significance, and a Bach/Busoni Chorale Prelude that is simply sublime; as a final solo, it is perfect.
The Mozart Concerto found Brendel returning home, to Vienna, to the Philharmonic, a great Mozart orchestra of course, and with Sir Charles Mackerras, a Mozart stylist of distinction and a long-term colleague of Brendel’s, for one last engagement with the public. This, the second of two consecutive performances, is a delight, capturing the youthfulness of the outer movements without ever being glib and bringing extraordinary intensity to the slow movement. Whether Brendel played an encore or not after the concerto (as he did elsewhere) is not preserved here; he may have repeated one from the Hanover recital; even so, as a really final document, such duplication would have been welcome.
“I salute my listeners and offer them a warm and grateful farewell”, writes Brendel in the booklet; he does indeed do so with this choice repertoire and performances of rare distinction undimmed by the years spent with them; if anything his public leave-taking of pieces so associated with him seem to be a new departure rather than covering similar ground. The concerto is as tangibly recorded as the recital.
Alfred Brendel’s great sense of humour had not been lost a few months later … at Rainer Hersch’s March 2009 concert in London when Brendel played the opening chord of Grieg’s Concerto… !