Classical review: Ed Vulliamy on the last concert of Alfred Brendel

The great pianist gave his last ever concert last week. Ed Vulliamy was there

All that glitters is not gold in post-Hapsburg Vienna, but all that is gold in the famous Golden Auditorium of the Musikverein, hallowed high temple of music, glowed on Thursday night for the last ever performance by the pianist Alfred Brendel. Sometimes only the German language will suffice, and the occasion was described in speeches afterwards as an "Abschiedfest" - a farewell festival.

Brendel, 77, has lived in London for decades and was born in Czechoslovakia, but the Austrians claim him as their own. Largely self-taught, he first played at the Musikverein in March 1950, aged 20, and performed almost exclusively in the city until his landmark appearances in London during the 1970s. But it was to Vienna that Brendel elected to return to say goodbye to his devoted public.

There may be other contenders to the title "greatest pianist in the world", but Brendel must be the greatest living interpreter of Mozart, and his choice of the composer's Concerto No 9 was itself a statement of defiant joy and pathos. Mozart's first great concerto for piano - his invention, effectively - is the first in music history to forge a real contrapunctal dialogue between the instrument and orchestra (in this case a lambent Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras).

Brendel, who believes in what he calls "responsibility to the composer, and particularly the piece", performed the soloist's part almost operatically; the Andantino especially is like an aria, with the piano as tragic heroine. As the pianist and the Philharmonic played, people began to stand, ignoring those behind them.

Each city of music has its distinctive final embrace that refuses to let a loved one go. Had this been Moscow, we would have stamped; in London, a veritable rose garden would have landed on stage. In Vienna, the hardest place to win a standing ovation, the Austrians rose and applauded, and simply continued to do so.


Ed Vulliamy

The GuardianTramp

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