Brendel at 70 – concert 30th May

Sonata in G minor (No.44)
Fantasia in D minor (K397)
Sonata in A minor (K310)
33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli Op.120

Alfred Brendel (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 May, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Brendel’s success in the Beethoven was to see the work whole without underplaying the diversity of each variation. Allowing the early commentaries to proceed in an orderly fashion, Brendel’s long-term cunning made the most of those variations that are furthest away (in time and expansion) from Diabelli’s ingenuous little waltz. Travelling to a still-centre of profundity, that door opened by variation 8, Brendel ensured that Beethoven at his most serene and pithily searching made the fullest impact without being pre-empted or straying out of context – if Beethoven wanted to take us somewhere unusual, Brendel took us there on his behalf.

Brendel makes connections, gently pointing at an observation, which requires listening as involved as Brendel’s confidential sharing of them – he is not going to underline particular features. The echoes of fugue from the ’Hammerklavier’ sonata and the lyric equanimity of Op.111’s ’Arietta’ were sounded with all the integrity of a musician who has this repertoire as part of his very being. Variation 8 having heralded the profoundness of ’Grave e maestoso’ (14), ’Andante’ (20) and the Bachian ’Fughetta’ (24), these similarly motioned the great slow triptych of variations 29-31 (’Adagio’-’Andante’-’Largo’), the central one ’always singing’, the ensuing one ’very expressive’ – as Beethoven directs. There was no lack of wit either – variation 13 proving an exemplar of humour in music, especially when delivered by a musician noted for his literary imagination; off-the-cuff interjection at its finest. The final variation is not a transfigured summation; rather it’s an innocent, nostalgic, minuet that is the perfect foil for earlier depths. When as modestly introduced as here, one reflects not only on the diversity and ambiguities of Beethoven’s conception but on the work as a whole – from a new angle. That’s Brendel’s gift: to change perspectives and make one think.

I need no converting to Haydn and it’s always a pleasure to hear Brendel play him; he speaks the language – serious, witty, capricious, and deeply expressive. He made the most of Haydn’s economical, concentrated two-movement G minor sonata – its formal manners and tangential annotation combining both musical deliberation and autonomy.

Brendel played both halves of the first movement twice (i.e. he also repeated the development and recapitulation) – very important to fully grasp Haydn’s subtleties. Brendel was similarly generous in the Mozart – yet when the second half of K310’s opening movement came again, I found it unnecessary; everything had been said. To my mind, Mozart’s ’bigger’ sonata had less to declare than the preceding Haydn. Perhaps Brendel was too rigorously intellectual, too plain speaking (which somewhat compromised the improvisatory aspects of the Fantasia) – Mozart was here presented as writing in parenthesis and being, literally, repetitive. The finale was the most successful – nervously intense, the restrained dynamics all the more telling for inward digression than external bravura.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content