Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Alfred Brendel

Is that a balloon I see before me?;

I said to Bondi "Bite him until you get milk".

Usher Hall

Event #16: Alfred Brendel

Although I have been a pianophiliac for longer than I care to mention, Alfred Brendel is an artist I've skirted almost conscientiously. His appearance at the Festival was an opportunity to address that, with a program that drew from his mittel-Europa mittel-period specialization.

He started with a Haydn Sonata in C minor (Hob XVI:20) , almost fittingly a composer whose keyboard output I've never really come to terms with. However like Scarlatti, who I suddenly "got", this year's offerings of Haydn sonatas served up by Marc-André Hamelin and Fazil Say, have switched me on to Papa Haydn's magic. This piece was a good choice as it clearly showed the debt that Beethoven and Mozart owe. Brendel will celebrate 60years as a concert artist in 2008 and his expert manipulation of runs and pauses in this piece served it well.

After that, my opinion of the performer slid quickly into disappointment. The remaining pieces were Beethoven's Sonata in A-flat Op110, Schubert's D935 Impromptus 1&3 (F minor and B-flat) and Mozart's C minor Sonata K457. They were all performed serviceably (except the opening pages of the F minor impromptu which seemed awfully muddy), but I got no magic from them. It was Urtext as Urtax. I imagined Randall, my last piano teacher, plying the same technical skills to phrase this program, or even that I was listening to an impersonal "model performance" used as a teaching aid. Ultimately the concert did not renew my appreciation of the works, give me that sense that "the piece is greater than it can be performed." (Arthur Schnabel). My point is made more succinctly by Menahem Pressler: "Doing a good job is not art."

The sellout audience lapped it all up and applauded enthusiastically until they got their encore - one of the later Moments Musicaux by Schubert. After that I negotiated my escape via some slow eddies in the white-haired glacier creaking toward the exits.

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