Alfred Brendel in Boston

Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII:6
Sonata in F, K533/494
Sonata in E flat, Op.27/1 (Quasi una fantasia)
Sonata in B flat, D960

Alfred Brendel (piano)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 22 February, 2008
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Alfred BrendelIn this “Celebrity Series of Boston” presentation billed as Alfred Brendel’s final Boston recital, the 77-year-old pianist, who plans to retire at the end of this year, performed a demanding program that brought together works by four Classical masters he has long championed. He delivered each piece with unqualified integrity, consummate focus and a real sense of spontaneity.

Brendel wasted no time in getting down to work. He walked out on stage, acknowledged the welcoming applause with a polite bow, and with no noticeable hesitation sat down and launched into a highly refined yet exhilaratingly fresh performance of Haydn’s Variations in F minor, a particularly ingenious example of the composer’s alternating double-variation structure. Through subtle manipulation of tempo and dazzling dexterity, Brendel infused the piece with drama and color, capturing the unique character of each transformation of the contrasting themes.

Brendel took a similarly no-nonsense approach to Mozart’s Sonata in F. Barely pausing between movements, he drew out the less conspicuous details in the work and succeeded in making its unpredictability thoroughly convincing. He played the opening Allegro with extraordinary drive and conviction and was particularly impressive in the large-scale Andante in which he successfully maintained an exquisite balance between tension and repose. The closing Rondo was delivered with remarkable naturalness of line and openness. As played by Brendel, this well-known sonata sounded appealingly fresh and alive.

A vigorous account of Beethoven’s first “quasi una fantasia” Sonata, marked by finely conceived, highly characterful playing, brought the first half of the recital to a close. Brendel captured all of Beethoven’s widely ranging musical moods in an incisive and superbly structured account, but came off best in the sprightly finale, full of exuberance and urgency.

Brendel gave Schubert’s transcendental Sonata in B flat, his very last composition for the piano, a mesmerizing and spacious account, one thoughtful and naturally eloquent. The performance was as searching and profound as one would expect from this master Schubertian.

Responding to tumultuous applause, Brendel responded with three encores: a rapt performance of the Andante from Bach’s Italian Concerto, an effervescent account of Liszt’s ‘Au lac de Wallenstadt’ (from Années de pèlerinage, the Swiss ‘first year’), and a poetic reading of Schubert’s familiar Impromptu in G flat.

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