Brendel and Pollini: Pianists Supreme

0 of 5 stars

Alfred Brendel

Fantasy in D minor, K397
Sonata in A minor, K310
Sonata in D, K311
Sonata in F, K533/494

Recorded 28 June-3 July 2002, Caird Hall, Dundee

Maurizio Pollini

Sonata No.22 in F, Op.54
Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Sonata No.24 in F sharp, Op.78
Sonata No.27 in E minor, Op.90

Bonus CD includes live Pollini performances of Opp.57 & 78

Studio-made CD recorded in June 2002, Herkulessaal, Munich

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2003
CD No: PHILIPS 473 689-2 (Brendel) / DG 474 451-2 (Pollini)

Two senior and magnificent pianists in wonderful form, recorded concurrently.

This is one of Pollini’s finest CDs – with no diminution of his rigour, intellect or technical command, I note new warmth of communication, and a phrasal beneficence, that isn’t always associated with him.

The augmentation of design that is the first movement of Op.22 is masterly in control. With the giant peaks of the Appassionata, Pollini need fear no one. His is a heroic traversal, no punches pulled or, more importantly, false excitement placed upon Beethoven’s already-demonstrative expression. The charging Finale is microscopically controlled without denuding its cumulative stampede.

The opening of the Op.78 sonata is awe-struck in its beauty; what follows is wonderfully articulate and sensitive. The Op.90 is transparent and delightfully ambiguous, Pollini’s lyrical searching being the epitome of great music-making.

Pollini has been given recorded sound as rugged and honest as his performances. In fact, one doesn’t think of the sound itself and is therefore able to concentrate on, and be immersed in, these outstanding interpretations. Just the right balance of space and immediacy is afforded Pollini; the treble is never harsh, the bass is warm and lucid. Pollini’s. The reproduction of the live performances is nearly as fine; it should be noted that in these appendix renditions, Pollini is consistently himself.

Pollini, along with Brendel, remains a giant, and their penetrating musicianship is to be treasured.

Indeed, in an age where the word ’great’ has become meaningless and in which auto-pilot, thumping and colourless pianists please gullible audiences, thank God for Alfred Brendel. His balance of head and heart, of insight and respect, of style and conviction has produced here a wonderful release documenting readings shot through with experience, analysis and spirit.

With exemplary recorded sound, Brendel begins with an articulate and penetrating account of the composite F major sonata, contrapuntal clarity his brief, which doesn’t preclude tender expression in the ’Andante’ or a musical-box whimsy in the Finale, the latter perfect in tempo to encompass Mozart’s detours.

The Fantasy has an austere purity, Brendel feeding off the fragments, not hiding the seemingly improvised contrasts or disguising the regular conclusion. One could, I suppose, crave more overt drama in the A minor sonata, yet while Brendel is more alive to severity than momentum, one is given time to appreciate not only emotion but also harmonic foundation. The ’Andante’ implores, and if the Finale remains troubled, Brendel uncompromisingly serious, when sunnier climes are signalled, he is no stranger.

The D major is given with brilliance and finite understanding of concise and unexpected structures. Anyone doubt Brendel’s eloquence? Try the slow movement. The Finale’s varied charms find Brendel a witty and festive accomplice.

While razzle-dazzle superficiality might be a sop for some, Brendel’s searching beyond the notes should not be mistaken for dullness. These closely examined and identified renditions report that Brendel remains at the very top.

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