Alfred Brendel, Royal Festival Hall, London

Royal Festival Hall, London

Alfred Brendel was the last recitalist in the old Festival Hall and a natural choice to be the debutant in the new one. But this concert of music by Viennese classical masters offered more than normal service resumed. The importance of the occasion drew extra depths and dimensions from his playing, and even a dose of uncharacteristic risk-taking.

The first acoustical impressions of the hall are that problems remain. Few pianists play with such a refined and nuanced touch as Brendel, yet the sound of his Steinway was on the dry side. Far more distracting, though, is the distinct audibility of the ventilation system. Unless it can be restrained, audiences and recitalists should complain.

Perhaps this explained a certain edginess in Brendel - I have never seen a pianist glare so fixedly at coughers in the audience. Certainly nothing in his playing could be described as routine in a recital that pointed up the connections between his four composers. Haydn's C minor sonata of 1771 was wonderfully exploratory and serious, almost Schubertian, with the slow movement a mesmerising single arc of music. The magical opening of Beethoven's A flat sonata Op 110, so much conveyed in so small a space, was delivered equally spaciously, and the arioso and fugue was a journey of harmonic exploration.

The interpretative heart of Brendel's recital came in the second half, in the two longest of Schubert's Impromptus D935, and in the dramatic urgency of Mozart's C minor sonata K457 with its premonitions of Beethoven's Op 13. The F minor Impromptu was especially striking, with Brendel probing deep below the surface of this poignant work. Such playing finally silenced the summer coughers, but sadly not the ventilation.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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