Following are a few special discs made by Brendel
through the years which one should not miss. Audio samples are available for each entry. Clicking on the little thumbnail album images below will link you to the individual disc pages, if available, in the Philips
Netherlands web site for label/catalogue numbers and such. No attempt has been made in the selection to be orderly, consistent, coherent, or least of all objective. :-)
One of Brendel's finest performances on disc is
this one of the Eroica Variations, accompanied by some shorter works for
piano which many students past and present may recognize (including the
ubiquitous "Für Elise", which has -- through no fault of
its own -- never held quite the same charm after its infamous use in a
saccharine-laden McDonald's commercial a few years back with some blasted
jingle writer's lyrics thrown in for extra measure to make the disaster
truly complete). Though The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs bemoans
the fact that the pieces are "not as flamboyant as with some"
and "may lack some of the sheer bravura of his own early playing",
nonetheless Brendel's balanced blend of thoughtfulness and feeling makes
for an absolutely compelling journey; listen especially to his shapely
phrasing and sense of form in the variations.
Brendel, though not easy to please when it comes
to his own performances, approved the release of this live performance
of the "Hammerklavier" Sonata from a concert given in Vienna,
commenting in a Gramophone interview, "There I do
recognize myself!" It is coupled with a spirited version of the "Das
Lebewohl" Sonata, also commonly known as "Les Adieux". The
disc comes from Brendel's latest digital cycle of the Beethoven sonatas.
Another excellent Beethoven recording by Brendel.
Though Brendel himself favors his live recording of the variations made
in London nearly 20 years ago (again, as revealed in his Gramophone
interview), this studio version is just as satisfying and the usual
benefits studio efforts offer over live events are manifest. Besides, the
live version is now only available as part of a multi-disc set, "The
Art of Alfred Brendel".
Brendel is joined by Thomas Zehetmair (violin),
Tabea Zimmerman (viola), Richard Duven (cello), and Peter Riegelbauer (double-bass)
in this pairing of Schubert's popular chamber piece and Mozart's G minor
Piano Quartet, K. 478. The Philips recording is well done and the players
provide an especially sparkling performance of the "Trout" Quintet.
All the sonatas on this disc are up to Brendel's
usual high standards, but the "Pathétique" is especially
fine. In this new cycle of the Beethoven sonatas he seems to be playing
with less reserve than his last recorded cycle (from the 1970s, also available
on the Philips label, but only as a boxed
set of 10 CDs or alternatively as two sets of "highlight"
CDs in the budget Philips Duo line: "Favourite
Piano Sonatas" and "The
Late Piano Sonatas") and the results are both spirited and contemplative
at the same time. In addition, the new digital recording, though spotty
in some other releases in the current cycle, sounds quite well this time
If nothing else, the cover alone holds a good deal of interest. Brendel's
rather ambiguous pose can be read on a number of levels, some verging on
the irreverent (and some others just plain falling over the verge). He
could be: Preparing to play the piano (nah, too far-fetched...); scrubbing
for open-heart surgery (hopefully not his own!); challenging you to a fight;
about to let out one honker of a sneeze; imagining all the money he's making
from this lovely album; practicing the Vulcan nerve grip; preparing to
strangle the photographer; showing us just how good Palmolive is for your
hands (Madge was right!); chanting, "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe!";
auditioning as the fabled Fourth Stooge; trying for a walk-on Woody Allen
look-alike part in the movies...say, he does kinda look like Woody Allen! Or Michael Caine...