Brendel's fond farewell to Snape

Alfred Brendel, Final Appearance at Snape Maltings, August 23Alfred Brendel will be on anyone's list of the greatest pianists of the last half-century - who will join him is an enjoyable debate - he has been a welcome visitor to Snape for many years and the warm welcome and full house that greeted him for his final recital was no surprise.

Alfred Brendel, Final Appearance at Snape Maltings, August 23

Alfred Brendel will be on anyone's list of the greatest pianists of the last half-century - who will join him is an enjoyable debate - he has been a welcome visitor to Snape for many years and the warm welcome and full house that greeted him for his final recital was no surprise.

At 77 Brendel retains an imposing physical presence and authority, his relationship with the audience warm but professional - the music is paramount and he launches straight into it.

Haydn's F minor variations, strong and serious, immediately set the tone and Brendel's fingers showed no signs of age as he dealt with the ornamentations.


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Mozart's late F major sonata contains some of his most adventurous harmonic writing, particularly in the slow movement. Brendel took a serious approach to this serious work, letting the unexpected modulations make their point and drawing out the darker side of the more ostensibly cheerful finale.

Beethoven's op 27/1 sonata has the composer moving away from his earlier, more extrovert works to a more reflective, experimental style. The first three movements seemed to pass quickly, with a splendid climax in the slow movement, and Brendel made the finale more convincing and satisfying than it often sounds.

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Schubert's final sonata for a final recital seemed an ideal choice and for musical rather than sentimental reasons. It is one of the peaks of the repertoire and Brendel has a particular empathy with Schubert. The first movement unfolded broadly (but without the exposition repeat) and there was rather more rubato (a change in tempo) than one might have expected - on occasion it threatened the momentum of the music. The slow movement had a wonderfully rich and consoling middle major section and ended with ethereally soft playing. Brendel captured perfectly the skittish, untroubled nature of the scherzo and was bold and clear-sighted in the finale.

And that was not all. Three ravishing encores followed - Bach played with crystalline clarity and restraint, Au lac du Wallenstadt, reminding me of Brendel's wonderful Annees des Pelerinage recital in Ipswich in the early 80's, and finally to Schubert again and his G flat impromptu. The farewells were just right too - no hysterics and stamping, relatively little standing and cheering - just warm, appreciative applause. Do pianists really retire? If so we all wish Alfred Brendel a long and happy one and we shall continue to cherish his recordings.

Gareth Jones

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