Sonata in B flat, K281
Sonata in E flat, K282
Sonata in D, K576
Fantasia in C minor, K396
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Recorded between 29 June and 10 July 2004 in the Jugendstiltheater, Vienna
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: PHILIPS 475 6199
Duration: 55 minutes
I expected much of this release, knowing from his recital appearances that Alfred Brendel remains consummately authoritative in this repertoire. He has had so long and distinguished a recording career – often making three or more versions a piece – that maybe he has made a rod for his own back by setting so high a standard.
Although new Mozart series benefits from SACD technology, there does not seem to be a commensurate advance in Brendel’s thoughts on the music; much as I have found his first Phillips cycles of Beethoven and Schubert superior to those that have followed.
There is, however, much to admire here. Mozart is, of course, second nature to Brendel – listen to how naturally and gracefully the second subject enters in the first movement of the D major Sonata, or how sweet the opening of the B flat major is made to sound. Brendel is at ease with the unusual, slow movement that opens the E flat major, and how beautifully he points the staccato of the second.
These pieces also emerge as Haydnesque in Brendel’s hands (listen to the foursquare rhythmical strophes of the finales to K282 and K576) – no coincidence that Brendel has deeply explored Haydn’s piano music – as if representatives of the classical style even more specifically than of Mozart. It is as if Brendel instinctively carries the structural proportions of sonata movements in his head – the exposition repeat of K281 subtly varied, the first movement of K576 symphonic in scale.
These are magisterial, safeguarded interpretations, with Brendel’s trademark attention to detail. But, overall, his playing lacks that last degree of lightness and freshness; it does not hold the attention constantly – the Fantasia, for example, drags its way to its conclusion.
However, no piece here is necessarily one of Mozart’s most immediately winning piano works; and for all that Brendel is completely inside the style, and comfortable with every formal twist, his approach can be over-literal rather than allusive or charming. The recorded quality is excellent in clarity; it does, however, have the intensity of a fluorescent tube – analytical sound that highlights rather than complements Brendel’s interpretations.