Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alfred Brendel's last concert

This item, from the BBC, has informed me that Alfred Brendel will be winding up his public-performance career tomorrow (i.e. Thursday, 18 December) in Vienna. Barring any comebacks or perpetual "retirements" like some other performers, it will be the end of an interesting career. I guess, despite a fondness for Glenn Gould and Maurizio Pollini, that Brendel has made appearances in my recording library. His relatively recent recording (2000, I think) of KV 331 is one of which I am rather fond. In any event, he is generally -- at least as far as my listening and cursory search of the literature is concerned -- regarded as intelligent and thoughtful, neither as deeply personal as Gould nor as icily cerebral as Pollini (stereotypes both, but stereotypes rooted in some truth). The kicker for me, of course, is this quote, from a 2002 profile:
It takes a lot of imagination to bring a work alive but it is on the terms of the compositions and not on the terms of showing off. It is not possible without you, but I am responsible to the composer and particularly to the piece.
Such an attitude, to my mind, can do many things to a performance, but -- at the very least -- it's an insurance policy of a competent, reasonably transparent performance.

Of course, during Brendel's first explosion into the Philips stable, even the idiosyncratic performers were deeply interested in understanding the music and representing their approach to that music. Things have changed, and I need only to cite to a pianist so nice he used his name, which rhymes closely with a common onomatopoeic word, twice to make my point. Idiosyncrasy without thought seems to be a bit of a fashion statement these days, and that makes a solid, intelligent performer a rare commodity. Brendel has been performing for 60 years (though his big break came in the 1970s), but I would hope that someone else can pick up the torch of clarity, simplicity, and fidelity.

At the very least, one can hope that Brendel keeps recording for a while. If he doesn't, at least I have my Backhaus records.


At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, he stopped recording a while ago, in 2005 I believe.
He will now retreat to writing books and poems, and give readings worldwide.

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