Friday, 22 August 2008

Farewell Alfred Brendel

If not quite Brendel's last appearance (he has a couple of concerts with the Philharmonia later in the year and others before he bows out in December in Vienna), it was the last chance to hear him in Scotland. Your reviewer felt slightly guilty as he heard this programme in Glasgow, but not as guilty as the several people who hadn't made it but hadn't disposed of their tickets either ought to have felt, especially as there are one or two people I know who would have loved a ticket.

I posted the review to that Glasgow concert a couple of months ago and there is little to add to it. The readings were broadly similar, though if anything slightly better - his speed, for example, in the opening movement of Mozart's K533 sonata even more impressive this time round. So too was the way he teased out the ending of Beethoven's op.27/1 sonata.

If there was a black mark it came not from the platform but the audience. There was a significant clique of people who insisted on clapping between movements. They did this after the superbly played first movement of the Mozart; previously I have seen Brendel restore silence with the slightest of gestures, last night that was insufficient. So too was holding up both his hands. They did it again after the sublime slow movement. He complained to the well behaved organ gallery that the Beethoven had four movements. There he gave them no quarter, running on from one movement to the next with the barest of pauses. This solved one problem, but slightly marred things as the work is best heard with the pauses.

During the interval I, and doubtless many others, bemoaned loudly this incredible rudeness on the part of some people. When the break came between the first two movements of the D960 there was a tension in the hall that you could have cut with a knife. The applause did not come. The D960 was splendid and, if anything, more polished and with fewer slips that occurred in Glasgow. It was nothing short of spellbinding.

Brendel received a deserved standing ovation, as much for the quality for the performance as his lifetime of achievement, and had obviously forgiven the audience sufficiently to give an encore (which I think was a beautifully played piece by Bach). More applause followed and a second encore, this time opinion in my party was divided, I wondered if it was Debussy but others though Chopin. Yet more applause brought us a third and final encore, this time more Schubert, which one of my party thought was an impromptu, and a quick trawl though my iTunes library confirms that it was: D899/3. And sublimely played it was too. When I first thought of this concert I knew we would get encores and I slightly regretted that the final notes of the D960 would not be the final notes I would hear Brendel play. These are an equally treasurable memory.

We gave the great man a final standing ovation but the concert had already overrun somewhat and they put the house lights up in an effort to shift us, which after a final curtain call was successful.

There are few other artists who bring such beauty, such a sense of structure and such intellect to the piano; without Alfred Brendel the concert halls will be quieter and, in particular, his annual visits to Edinburgh and the Usher Hall will be missed.

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