Fantasia in C minor, K396
Sonata in B flat, K281
Sonata in E flat, K282
Drei Klavierstücke, D946
Sonata in E, Op.109
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 22 June, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The hall was full and there had been a long queue for returns. Numerous concerto appearances aside, was this Alfred Brendel’s debut recital at the Barbican as he added to the distinguished roll-call of the Centre’s “Great Performers”?
If, nearly halfway through his eighth decade, Brendel makes the occasional concession to age in terms of technical acumen, then his wisdom and musical illumination remain as tangible as ever. Not though to the man who spent several minutes of the Fantasia rustling through his bag, emitting sounds akin to a rabbit burrowing earth, or the man snoring a few seats from him. Fortunately, neither returned for the second half.
The Mozart group included a severe and searching account of the C minor Fantasia, its Baroque, Classical and Romantic boundaries crossed and referenced and wound-down to perfection. The two early sonatas may have lacked definition at points, but equally the fast movements were unfailingly articulate, the closing bars of the B flat sonata’s delightfully amiable finale timed like a master comedian: “That’s All Folks!” Brendel’s singing-line granted the Andante amoroso its mellifluous outpouring, and the mobile first movement yielded rather more than mere brilliance. From Brendel, the E flat sonata’s opening Adagio seemed to anticipate Beethoven in its arching lyricism, and although the return of the first of the following pair of minuets was inexplicably hurried, Brendel was otherwise satisfyingly persuasive in eliciting the sonata’s flowing, simple and insouciant aspects.
After such elegance, Brendel bared his teeth for the demonstrative first of Schubert’s Piano Pieces, albeit it was still somewhat underplayed and splashy. The second Piece was elevated though, the spectral second section suggestive of extra-terrestrials dancing in the distance – another “Roswell Incident” – while the glorious ‘second trio’ was sublime, which aptly describes the ‘theme and variations’ finale of Op.109, quite mesmerising here as Brendel transported us to a higher place, each note hanging in the air with significance; the theme, on its return, was reluctantly bid farewell to – no question that this sonata is one of piano music’s pinnacles.
Brendel doesn’t just play encores, he integrates them; thus Schubert’s G flat Impromptu (from the D899 set), taken unusually spaciously, seemed related to Op.109’s finale by dint of trill and ecstasy, Brendel strumming Schubert’s hymnal with rare devotion. Throughout this recital, Brendel, truth-teller and visionary, held the attention through sheer artistic conviction.