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Beethoven is one of the composers with whose music Brendel has been most closely associated. The Emperor was the first concerto he performed in public, in 1948. He then went on to record almost all of Beethoven s piano works between 1958 and 1964, following these with recordings of the complete piano sonatas in the 1970s and the 1990s. Brendel s fourth and final recording of Beethoven s five piano concertos, with Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, shares with the previous ones what Gramophone critic Richard Osborne referred to as qualities of energy, sensibility, intellectual rigour and high pianistic finish which made the earlier readings so interesting. If the first movement of the Emperor is slightly slower than previously, the second movement strikes an ideal tempo, reflecting the alla breve time signature. Brendel observes that this movement Does not ask for religious solemnity, but for a forward moving sweetness, a quiet rapture.
After this virtuoso and heroic concerto comes a sonata that Beethoven wrote four years earlier, and a particular favourite of Brendel s. Both these works share a spacious grandeur, but in contrast to the concerto, the Appassionata is Beethoven s only work to maintain a tragic solemnity throughout all its movements.
Brendel has played and recorded several works by Schumann, including Kreisleriana, Kinderszenen, the Fantasy, Fantasiestücke, op.12 and the Symphonic Studies as well as a disc of Schumann oboe music with Heinz Holliger. He has also recorded Schumann s Piano Concerto twice, although intriguingly, he has rather ambivalent feelings about this work. He admits that, Although the score seems wonderfully clear to read, when one tries to perform it, there are things that don t quite fit, that don t balance out. In no way do I wish to blame the piece, but it is clearly tricky for pianist, conductor and orchestra to get it right. It s one of those frustrating works which one sometimes gets close to without ever quite getting there. In her review of this recording with Claudio Abbado and the LSO, Joan Chissell commended Brendel s very searching approach, remarking that the first movement in particular emerges as a true love poem.
The Weber coupling, which Brendel played on his first radio broadcast and has championed along with Weber s Sonata in A flat, is a precursor of Liszt s concertos in its structure. Here Brendel gives a vividly characterised and brilliant performance of music that he describes as A strange mixture of naivity, chivalry and sheer tomfoolery.
For Brendel, Schubert is the composer who moves the listener most directly, and he devoted himself to the music of Schubert from early on in his career at a time when many of Schubert s piano works were hardly performed in public. Schubert soon became one of the composers with whose music Brendel has been particularly associated, and it was in 1977, after he had completed his first recordings of Schubert s later piano works, that he made this, the first of his two recordings of the ever-popular Trout Quintet.
Brendel refers to the Quintet as one of the masterpieces of Schubert that are utterly life-affirming, Unique in all great music a five-movement piece, entirely in the major, of unalloyed happiness. This exhilarating performance is full of the vigour and élan of musicians obviously relishing their collaboration. It sparkles with the unrestrained joy of life that the twenty-two-year-old Schubert felt on holiday in what he called the inconceivably lovely countryside of Steyr in Upper Austria, where to his delight he also found himself surrounded by pretty girls.
1. Piano Concerto No.5 In E Flat Major Op.73 "Emperor": I. Allegro
2. Piano Concerto No.5 In E Flat Major Op.73 "Emperor": II. Adagio Un Poco Mosso
3. Piano Concerto No.5 In E Flat Major Op.73 "Emperor": III. Rondo (Allegro)
4. Piano Sonata No.23 In F Minor, Op.57 "Appassionata": I. Allegro Assai
5. Piano Sonata No.23 In F Minor, Op.57 "Appassionata": II. Andante Con Moto
6. Piano Sonata No.23 In F Minor, Op.57 "Appassionata": III. Allegro Ma Non Troppo
7. Piano Concerto In A Minor, Op.54: I. Allegro Affettuoso
8. Piano Concerto In A Minor, Op.54: II. Intermezzo (Andantino Grazioso)
9. Piano Concerto In A Minor, Op.54: III. Allegro Vivace
10. Konzertstuck In F Minor, Op.79: Larghetto Affettuoso - Allegro Passionato-
11. Konzertstuck In F Minor, Op.79: Adagio - Tempo Di Marcia - Piu Mosso - Presto Giojoso
12. Piano Quintet In A, D.667 "The Trout": I. Allegro Vivace
13. Piano Quintet In A, D.667 "The Trout": II. Andante
14. Piano Quintet In A, D.667 "The Trout": III. Scherzo (Presto)
15. Piano Quintet In A, D.667 "The Trout": IV. Thema - Andantino - Variazioni I-V - Allegretto
16. Piano Quintet In A, D.667 "The Trout": V. Finale (Allegro Giusto)