Live from the BBC - Alfred Brendel
With this two-CD set, Philips launch “Artist’s Choice”, Brendel’s personal selection from previously unpublished live and radio recordings dating from 1968 to 2001. An on-going series, it “sets free” (Brendel’s words) performances which this incomparable artist finds “relatively gratifying” and providing “a modicum of pleasure”. But for the avid listener and outsider the experience offered is very different. For here is Brendel at his greatest, “the colossal effort of interpretation” (Michael Tippett) refined and subsumed into that subtlest of illusions; the ultimate or definitive musical statement.
Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in particular can rarely have received a reading that is at once so magisterial and assured yet so natural and unassuming. The fruit of years of experience, every bar is touched with character and individuality while remaining true to Beethoven’s monumental spirit. What virtuosity in the truest musical sense in Var 10, what other-worldly serenity in the fughetta of Var 24. The gawky brilliance of Var 27 is given an extra twist to its humour and throughout you can only marvel at this recreation by one of the most powerful musical minds of our time.
Brendel is no less wry and speculative, playful and profound, in the Op 101 Sonata, holding the active and contemplative sides of Beethoven’s volatile nature in perfect equilibrium. He also declares his love of Busoni’s austere genius in every bar of the Elegies Nos 3 and 6 while Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses are given with unflagging musical energy. Finally, Chopin’s Andante spianato and Grande polonaise is a delicious surprise, the Andante played with the most simple and refined eloquence, the Polonaise given with a gentle and idiosyncratic charm – the reverse of other more superficial, show-stopping performances. This is a treasurable testament indeed, making it hard to wait for the next issue of Brendel’s “Artist’s Choice”.