Alfred Brendel

A Birthday Tribute

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This album was issued in 2011 to honor Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel on his 80th birthday. Suffering from arthritis, Brendel had retired in 2008. The album consists of unreleased live performances from 1985, 2002, and 2007, which, in Brendel's own words, "seem to realize my idea" of the works performed "more fully than others." Brendel lost a bit of physical strength in his old age, but his playing was never about power, and the news here is that the performances, dating from the later parts of a 60-year career, do indeed add to his substantial recorded legacy. They may be of most interest to Brendel fans, who will spot the new subtleties added by this intellectual but never inexpressive artist. But the magnificent performance of the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110, could appeal to anyone. Brendel at once contrasts and links the parts of the work's formal architecture. There's lots of definition of the left-hand parts, bringing out the long-range harmonic patterns in the opening movement, and the sonata's moments of instrumental recitative seem to emerge from these patterns with particular vividness; Brendel takes a bit more time with these than in his better-known studio recordings. This and the Schubert Impromptu in F minor, Op. 90/1, that follows come from one of Brendel's last public concerts, making this album a valuable document. The expansive Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503, recorded in 2002, is a fine essay in long-range balance. The Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15, on disc 1, recorded in 1985, closely follows a studio recording of the period with which Brendel was dissatisfied due to problems with the engineering. All in all, a fine way to cap out a Brendel collection of any size.

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