Alfred Brendel, Royal Festival Hall, London

Royal Festival Hall, London

The final classical concert in the Festival Hall before its long closure was a measured affair. Alfred Brendel may not have been able to fill this hall when he began giving recitals here four decades ago - but he certainly can now.

Mozart's Variations on a Minuet by Duport reminded us that although a composer's use of another's theme could be taken as a compliment, it might just be a double-edged one. By transforming Duport's repetitive theme, played simply by Brendel with just a touch of self-importance in the rising chords in the middle, Mozart seemed to be pointing out how much more the other composer could have done with that sweetly naive melody.

The sweetness vanished abruptly as Brendel launched into Schumann's Kreisleriana, sounding taxed in the early fast movements. In between came a movement that positively glowed; like so many such moments in Brendel's playing, this was due not to carefully manipulated phrasing or overt expression, but to a remarkable evenness of touch allied to a long view of a piece's structure that makes him seem reluctant to let a melody drop.

Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata, Op 28, brought the main programme to a warm close. The second movement had a hint of malevolence, understated except for a slightly grotesque turn on top of the final chord. Elsewhere, there was a tenderness that Brendel doesn't lavish on just any work. However, perhaps the most satisfying moments of the evening came with three of Schubert's Moments Musicaux, which found Brendel at his most consistently poised and introspective.

On paper, the choice of Brendel for this final recital, rather than some young, thrusting pianist, could have been taken as a sign that the Festival Hall was looking back and not forward. Yet long before his second encore - a Busoni arrangement of a Bach chorale prelude - drew to its solemn, respectful close, it became clear that he was the right performer for the job.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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