An acclaimed profile of Alfred Brendel, one of the world's finest pianists, being repeated now to mark the end of his performing career.
Brendel has now recorded the work three times for the gramophone. At first, on Vox/Turnabout in the early 1960s, he was the brilliant iconoclast before his deeper realization of the work's essentially comic energies. And here I use 'comic' both in the narrow sense of the term (the Diabe/li is, after all, full ofjokes, many of them with the staying-power of the finest Wildean epigrams) and in the broader sense: what Susanne Langer has called, comedy "as an image of human vitality holding its own in the world amid the surprises of unplanned coincidence".
Like Gilels, Brendel treats the Op. 35 Variations as far more than a poor relation of the Eroica Symphony finale. His approach has less of the urgent, seemingly improvisatory thrust which makes the Gilels DG performance (on LP only) so compelling, but the sharpness with which he characterizes each variation is a delight, each time bringing a moment of revelation, and often relating this essentially middle-period work to much later inspirations. The six Bagatelles of Op. 126 equally find Brendel giving these fragments a weight, concentration and seriousness to reflect what else Beethoven was writing at the time. There is a gruffness of expression with charm eliminated. The third Bagatelle is the more moving for its simple gravity, and only in the final one of the group does Brendel allow himself to relax in persuasive warmth. Fur Elise makes a simple, haunting prelude to the group and the six Ecossaises a jolly postude with Brendel evoking the bluff jollity of Austrian dance music.
An exclusive artist for the Philips label since 1969, Brendel’s discography is now among the most extensive of any pianist, reflecting a repertoire of solo, chamber and orchestral works by the major composers from the central European tradition from Bach through to Schoenberg.
This 114 CD Edition encompasses his complete discography for Philips and Decca and includes studio albums, live recordings and radio broadcasts. The set is accompanied by a 200-page book featuring a note by Brendel’s personal choice of writer, Misha Donat.
Recorded live in 1983, Alfred Brendel's third go-round with these works drastically improves on his previous Beethoven concerto cycles. He finds a calmer, more direct route to the Emperor Concerto, although the Fourth's first movement is still pock-marked with finicky phrase adjustments that pull focus from the music's poetic arcs. Levine provides sympathetic and alert support, yet is much more than a mere deferential accompanist.
On the musical side… this is pure Bredel.
…few pianists illuminate this music better. With him, even the "heavenly length" of some movements becomes a delight, and you don't want them to end.