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Brendel Explores the Depths of Beethoven at REDCAT

By Donna Perlmutter
Published: Monday, November 01, 2010, at 10:01AM
Afred Brendel Courtesy REDCAT

Alfred Brendel

All Alfred Brendel needs to do is walk onstage – as he did Thursday at REDCAT -- and you’re in his aura. “Good evening,” says the legendary pianist, in his soft baritone, his finely cultivated, Austrian-accented English.

He sits down facing the audience and begins speaking about Beethoven, his soul-mate through a concertizing journey of 50 years. He wears a black suit, no tie, white shirt with open collar spread over the lapels, European-style.

And then commences Brendel magic -- 75 minutes of it. Did you know, for instance, that the Beethoven sonatas are repositories of whole novels? That they manifest the scope of complex human feelings through musical codes? Well, if you didn’t, that’s what will be understood, in depth, by the time this empathic musician-scholar-author is finished with you.

At first, until we adjusted to the fact that he was reading excerpts from his own books -- and quotes from the writings of Schoenberg, Kolisch, Czerny, Adorno – there was something musty in the atmosphere.

But that didn’t last, it couldn’t, not in the face of such persuasion as Brendel’s. And when he intermittently re-seated himself at the piano to play illustrative themes and counter-voices from the “Appassionata,” the “Waldstein,” the “Pathetique,” we were swept into his old-world, burnished intellect and passion.

In case you’re wondering, the 79-year-old pianist still keeps his fingertips wrapped in bandaids, even though he retired from concertizing two seasons ago. And while he no longer holds to his lofty recital standards in matters of keyboard technique – instead, focusing on expressive and motivic points – we could see his intensity: those singing grunts for emphasis, that quivering chin.

The paths he took us on were wholly engaging, irresistible, really. His final wrapup point: Beethoven’s works require an interpreter who can penetrate and reveal both human character and musical structure in a way that magnifies the music.

Huzzahs to REDCAT for bringing the Brendel show to its small, inviting stage.

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