Alfred Brendel

Sonata in D, Hob.XVI/42
Sonata in G, D894
Fantasia in C minor, K475
Rondo in A minor, K511
Sonata in C, Hob.XVI/50

Alfred Brendel (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 June, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Well into his eighth decade, Alfred Brendel remains as insightful and illuminating as ever. If technically there is now less hairsbreadth precision in the fingers and a tendency to push through the tone, such concessions are insignificant given Brendel’s devotion to his chosen composers, of which Haydn, Mozart and Schubert have long been at the core of his activities, their music searched but not imposed upon.

In the heat of the Barbican Hall, its lighting initially seeming to replicate the yellow rays of the sun (an effect that was merely illusory), Brendel opened with one of Haydn’s two-movement sonatas to the accompaniment of a high-pitched whistle (someone’s hearing-aid, maybe, and which would be equally intrusive during the latter stages of the Schubert). If this particular sonata is not vintage Haydn, there was much to intrigue, and Brendel unfolded its digressions with ear-catching repartee, the final bars enjoying his master-comedian’s timing.

Schubert’s G major sonata, sometimes erroneously referred to as a ‘fantasy’, was given a restless and penetrating account, the first movement’s developmental focus intensified by the lack of an exposition repeat. Rough-hewn in approach, Brendel’s direct way with the first movement (rather short-changing the ‘moderato e cantabile’ marking) and his flowing view of the Andante threatened that one would cancel the other out. The Minuet had a gawky stance, grace-notes ‘crushed’, with the Trio taking on a musical-box delicacy and Tyrolean grace that was quite magical. The (seemingly) easy-going finale could have been even more moderated to reveal its dance character, yet Brendel peered beneath the surface and married playfulness and optimism to compelling effect.

The Mozart pieces were, in some respects, the recital’s highlights: the Fantasia both improvisatory and organic, and provocative in its nakedness, the Rondo’s quizzical turns of phrase and sleight-of-hand harmonic changes revelled in.

Haydn and Brendel has long been a perfect match. He loves the mischievous aspects of the composer; here the wit, flights of fancy and ambidextrous construction of the remarkably inventive C major Sonata found Brendel in his element. Both halves of the first movement were repeated (and varied), the Adagio was richly ornate, and the finale bubbled over with bonhomie – to the extent that Brendel couldn’t resist graphically sharing the coda’s ‘joke’ with the audience and was still laughing as he took his bow.

For an encore, Brendel offered more Mozart, the slow movement of one of the sonatas, maybe from the A minor, K310.

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