Online Journal

Alfred Brendel – Piano
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras – conductor
Philips 468 367-2

TPT: 67'31

Alfred Brendel is a safe bet where the Viennese classics are concerned. You can be sure of integrity, meticulous attention to detail, beautiful quality of sound and an understanding of the music's wit and humour.

All the above are present in this, the latest in an ongoing series of Mozart concertos with the SCO. However, one wonders what new insights Brendel can bring to a new recording of these works. After all, the 'historically informed' performance movement has largely passed Brendel by – he still uses a modern Steinway, plays with orchestras of modern instruments and chooses not to adopt the faster tempi associated with period instrument performances. But one cannot criticise him for this – the modern Steinway in Brendel's hands is merely a vehicle for the communication of the essence of the music, and is treated with such sensitivity that only a die-hard period purist could be offended by the sound.

...this is the meeting of two musical greats: Brendel with Mackerras and Mozart with the SCO.

Perhaps, rather than looking for superficial changes from previous Brendel recordings, we should be satisfied that, in his 70th birthday year, he still sounds as fresh as ever. One may notice slightly slower tempi in these performances than in previous ones, but this enables Brendel to explore the inner details in faster passagework; in the K482 Concerto, it also emphasises the lyrical aspects of the work as opposed to its boldness and brilliance. The K595 Concerto, with its unique quality of world-weary beauty and nostalgia, benefits more than K482 from the gentle touch. But even the finale of this concerto could be given more of a spark of brilliance than Brendel chooses to display.

Nevertheless, the overriding impression in both works is of a conception, which has been thoroughly thought through and is convincingly communicated in Brendel's unique style.

Although one can only admire Brendel's intelligence and integrity, his performances somehow lack the qualities displayed in Géza Anda's performances, recently re-released as part of a super-budget set on Deutsche Gramophon (Camerata Academica des Salzburger Mozarteums, 469 510-2). Anda treats these concertos as on-going narratives, adding an element of spontaneity, which keeps the listener alert; each phrase is given an imaginative expressive nuance, which, in the hands of a master, serves to highlight the music's beauty. So, whilst Brendel over-prettifies the music, and it is really charming, Anda remains the more interesting, if only for breathing new life into such familiar works.

As always, the SCO under Mackerras provide a punchy, though dynamically uplifting performance. I still rather prefer the Salzburger Mozarteums, even in such early recordings, since although slightly better articulated, theirs has a natural homogeneity. Nevertheless, this is the meeting of two musical greats: Brendel with Mackerras and Mozart with the SCO. An attractive buy.

Paul Janes  

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