Alfred Brendel / A Birthday Tribute

Alfred Brendel - A Birthday Tribute - Brendel

Alfred Brendel
Int. Release 15 Dec. 2010

Track List

CD 1: Alfred Brendel - A Birthday Tribute

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15


Alfred Brendel, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Colin Davis

Total Playing Time: 50:54

CD 2: Alfred Brendel - A Birthday Tribute

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503



Alfred Brendel, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Hans Zender

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat Major, Op. 110

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
4 Impromptus, Op. 142, D. 935

Alfred Brendel

Total Playing Time: 1:03:31

It is hard to find fault [in his performance of Beethoven's op. 110], for the linear conception of the work is clear to behold and the playing is of unfailing beauty, with the final return to the tonic key a true apotheosis and a triumphant home . . . The Schubert is no less successful . . . With . . . fabulous recording quality throughout, this set needs little further recommendation.

A great pianist is not necessarily a big pianist . . . Alfred Brendel is unmistakably both. This has little or nothing to do with volume, though here, as ever, he commands a tonal palette of truly panoramic breadth and depth. It has a lot to do with richness, character and variety of sonority, but this again is not a matter of acoustics. Brendel's "bigness" resides primarily in the quality and scope of his musical vision, and in his seamless amalgamation of drama, spiritual intensity and thought.

It's a reading [of Beethoven's op. 110] of profound wisdom, pathos and tenderness that leaves you wishing for more.

Brendel, noch im vollen Saft der mittleren Jahre, legte eine mitreißende Darstellung von Brahms' frühem Meisterwerk hin. Mit beherrschter Dramatik, souveräner Architektur und klug gesetzten Nuancen . . .

Das mit vehementem Geist und schwebendem Ton erzielte Maß an Poesie und Deutlichkeit wirkt elektrisierend.

Er ist eine lebende Legende . . . Denn Brendel ist viel mehr als ein Ausnahmepianist, er ist ein wahrer Tausendsassa.

Unaufdringlich. Intensiv. Wertvoll . . . Bei Brahms' Klavierkonzert Nr. 1 von 1985, mit Colin Davis als Dirigent, ist alles im Einklang, und der Klavierpart kann unter Brendels Händen einen ungeahnt poetischen Ton entfalten. Wie fein Brendel hier Harmonien, Klangfarben und Motive herausarbeitet, das muss man gehört haben, um Brahms besser zu verstehen . . . Wirklich wundervoll dann, mit welch graziöser Noblesse Brendel Beethovens Sonate op. 110 spielt, während er in Schuberts Impromptu f-Moll die kraftvollen Seiten hervorkehrt. Dieses Album ist "the best of Brendel" durch und durch, ein Geschenk für jeden.

Brendel. Der ewig frische. Der niemals schwerfällige. Der Künstler, der vor rund zwei Jahren seine Klavier-Karriere beendete, um als Denker, Dichter und Lehrer weiterzumachen. Und so gesellt sich dieser "Tribute" mit seinen zwei CDs zu einem wie ein guter Freund. Unaufdringlich. Intensiv. Wertvoll . . . Bei Brahms' Klavierkonzert Nr. 1 . . . mit Cohn Davis als Dirigent, ist alles im Einklang, und der Klavierpart kann unter Brendels Händen einen ungeahnt poetischen Ton entfalten. Wie fein Brendel hier Harmonien, Klangfarben und Motive herausarbeitet, das muss man gehört haben, um Brahms besser zu verstehen . . . Dieses Album ist "the best of Brendel" durch und durch, ein Geschenk für jeden. Hoch soll er leben!

Un modèle d'interprétation mozartienne, jusque dans la (longue) cadence de Brendel lui-même, qui mélange admirablement les thèmes . . . Il se fraie un chemin à travers la sonate [op. 110] de Beethoven la moins faite pour le concert public, et il y réussit fort bien, chantant à l'unisson de son piano comme immergé dans l'avancée inexorable de la musique. C'est splendide . . .

I am delighted that these live performances have finally become available. With all suitable reservations, they seem to me to realise my idea of these works more fully than others. The recording of Brahms's D minor Concerto with Claudio Abbado suffered from a balance problem: the piano sounded too remote. In the Munich rendering, it is restored to its right acoustical position. Similarly, the sound and spirit of the Südwestfunk recording of Mozart's concerto K.503 convey an immediacy which studio productions do not always achieve.
There are also advantages in Salzburg's op.110. In the overview of this performance, details are put more safely into place. Of all my attempts to do justice to this unique and precarious piece, this one is nearest to my heart.
My gratitude goes to the splendid partnership of the conductors Sir Colin Davis and Hans Zender, to the orchestras, and not least to the producers and engineers.
Alfred Brendel

The Music
The piano concertos of Mozart - the most miraculous series of works in the history of the genre- were well known to Beethoven and Brahms, both of whom wrote their own cadenzas for the Dminor Concerto, K. 466. Brahms, who performed several of the Mozart concertos with the Detmold court orchestra in the 1850s, additionally supplied cadenzas for the concertos K.453 and K.491, and the latter work clearly cast a spell over Beethoven's Piano Concerto no.3, in the same key of C minor. As for the C major Concerto, K.503, Beethoven remembered it well enough to borrow an important detail from it when he came to write his Fourth Piano Concerto: at the start of the central development section in Mozart's work the piano quietly takes over an insistent repeated-note “knocking" rhythm from the orchestra, at the same time shifting it up onto a new pitch - an idea that recurs almost as a direct quotation at the parallel point in Beethoven's work.
It was with K. 503, the last and grandest of his C major works of the kind, that Mozart brought to a close the great cycle of twelve piano concertos composed between the beginning of 1784 and the end of 1786 for his subscription concerts in Vienna. None of his concertos begins more majestically than this one; and yet, as so often with his works in the key of C major, the music's confident surface is constantly undermined by the shadow of the minor. Even before the assertive opening fanfares have run their course, that shadow makes a fleeting appearance; but the ensuing military-style theme, with its “knocking"-rhythm upbeat, leads the music into more permanently clouded pastures - indeed, so firmly is the feeling of C minor established here that when the “knocking" rhythm returns during the concerto's first stage featuring the soloist, Mozart uses it to launch a new theme in the key we might have expected had the work as a whole been in C minor.
Mozart's piano concertos find him constantly addressing the question of how most effectively to introduce the soloist following the initial tutti. In some cases the pianist simply enters with a statement of the main theme; in the two minor-mode concertos, K. 466 and 491, he presents his credentials with an entirely new theme; while in others he appears with an improvisatory flourish. In the Concerto K. 503 the pianist makes his entrance with great subtlety, stealing in before the orchestra has been able to round off its introduction. This is the longest of all Mozart's improvisatory beginnings, and it cost him a good deal of trouble: a preliminary sketch shows it considerably more abbreviated and without the melodic and harmonic freedom of its eventual form.
The theme of the slow movement comes to rest in its second bar on a long-held chord that presages a widespread use of static pedal-points during the later course of the piece - nowhere more strikingly so than at its mid-point, where a single sustained note underpins an expansive passage featuring wide melodic skips and intricate arpeggios for the soloist, and considerably delaying the expected return of the main theme. Mozart would no doubt have filled in the melodic leaps when playing the concerto himself, and Alfred Brendel does so in the present performance.
There are more pedal-points in the rondo finale, notably in a long passage preceding the first reprise of the gavotte-like rondo theme, where the soloist's rapid figuration unfolds over a bass note that is held for no fewer than 22 bars. At the centre of the rondo stands an episode beginning in the minor, but soon giving way to a soaring major-mode melody of wonderful lyrical expansiveness. Mozart makes subtle allusion to the melody in the concerto's closing pages, before the orchestra seizes the initiative to bring proceedings to a grandiose conclusion.
Brahms was a composer with whom musical inspiration did not always go hand in hand with the means of its realisation. We may think of his well-known Piano Quintet, op.34, which went through two prior manifestations, as a string quintet and as a sonata for two pianos. His Piano Concerto no.1 also began life as a two-piano sonata, which he played through with Clara Schumann in the summer of 1854. However, feeling that two pianos were insufficient to convey the weight of his musical material, Brahms decided to rework it into a symphony. But even this failed to satisfy him, and in February 1855 he told Clara: “Just imagine what I dreamed in the night. I had used my failed symphony for a piano concerto, and was playing it. A first movement and scherzo and a finale, terribly difficult and grand. I was completely carried away."
In the end, Brahms retained only the opening movement of his original conception, transforming it into a concerto movement that is one of his great tragic utterances. Even the tender resignation of the music's calmer moments does little to lighten the atmosphere of gravity. The soloist's first entrance breathes the air of a Bach Passion, while the principal second subject in the major, given initially to the piano alone, has the character of a chorale.
The profoundly serene slow movement was composed in the summer of 1856, in the aftermath of Schumann's death. Over its beginning Brahms wrote the words “Benedictus qui venit", and it has sometimes been thought the piece was based on a lost setting of the Mass. There can be little doubt in any case that the blessing was directed towards Clara, in her time of adversity.
Having written two movements that appear not to have originated in concerto form, Brahms took no chances with his finale: he based its course of events closely on that of the rondo from Beethoven's Piano Concerto no.3. Brahms's piece, however, is no slavish imitation. Indeed, its material is thoroughly individual and tinged throughout with the gypsy inflections that imbue all his concerto finales.
Beethoven's Sonata op.110 is the middle work in his final triptych of piano sonatas, composed between 1820 and 1822, during the period when he was also working on his Missa solemnis. The first two sonatas find him exploring a radically new approach to the form, in which the main weight of the work is carried by the finale. In op. 110 the opening Moderato cantabile is a piece conspicuously devoid of drama and tension, even in its central development section, while the scherzo second movement, for all its apparent seriousness, has a distinctly humorous subtext. It alludes to two folksongs: the first of them “Unsa Kätz häd Kazl'n g'habt" (“Our cat has had kittens"), and the second, “Ich bin lüderlich, du bist lüderlich" (“I'm a down-and-out, you're a down-and-out"). Unlike the scherzo itself, which falls into two almost exaggeratedly symmetrical halves, both repeated, the trio is through-composed. It presents a series of winding phrases for the player's right hand, which come tumbling down from the topmost register of the keyboard at the same time that the left-hand accompaniment rises in syncopated gasps, so that the two hands are in severe danger of colliding at the point where they cross over each other.
The remainder of the sonata plays continuously, presenting first a slow recitative and then a highly original fusion of two contrasting movements, both drawing inspiration from the music of the past: a tragic “arioso", reminiscent of the aria “Es ist vollbracht" from Bach's St. John Passion, and a fugue on a subject that could have stepped straight out of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The two movement-types alternate, and when the “arioso" returns, following the first fugue, it does so in an exhausted form, with its phrases broken up as though the music were panting for breath. Out of this world-weary atmosphere the fugue reappears, with its subject now inverted, before the music gradually gropes its way back to the light, and the home key, for the exultant closing pages.
In February 1828, some nine months before his death, Schubert wrote to the publishers Schott&Co., offering them, among other works, a set of “four Impromptus for piano solo which can appear singly or all four together". Schott, however, rejected them, and they did not appear until 1839, when Anton Diabelli issued them with a dedication to Liszt. The Impromptus (D935) formed Schubert's second collection of the kind, and the F minor opening number is conceived on a large scale. Its jagged opening subject is followed by a passage of gently rippling semiquavers (16th-notes) whose thematic outline eventually gives rise to a wonderfully expressive theme in repeated chords. There is also a contrasting episode that has the pianist's left hand, playing the melody, constantly crossing back and forth over the right. Although it unfolds for the most part in pianissimo, Schubert clearly wanted this passage played with peculiar intensity: the paradoxical marking of “appassionato" for such intimate music is one we find again in a similar context in the slow movement of the great E flat Piano Trio, D929, and the Notturno for Piano Trio, D897.
Misha Donat