Alfred Brendel - Royal Festival Hall, 14 June 2007
Haydn Piano Sonata in C minor, Hob.XVI/20
Beethoven Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.110
Schubert 4 Impromptus, D.935 - No.1 in F minor; No.3 in B flat major
Mozart Piano Sonata in C minor, K.457
Digging not too deeply into his core repertoire, Alfred Brendel tonight came up with an elegantly balanced programme (kudos for not yielding to a chronological presentation) short of novelty but full of craftsmanship.
The opening Haydn sonata, surprisingly chocker with bum notes even by Brendel's own carefree standards, was otherwise a model of delicacy and restraint.
The Beethoven, again delicately handled, was in interesting contrast to Paul Lewis's performance of the same work a few days back. Where Lewis offered fire and energy, Brendel rounds the edges and lightens the touch. Although Brendel's subtlety seemed a better fit, it was ultimately less engaging.
My idea of an Schubert impromptu is something that sounds improvised, freshly baked - Edwin Fischer's 1938 recording exemplifies this like no other - unfortunately Brendel's though skilfully cooked sounded frozen and reheated.
The closing Mozart sonata was the most completely realised piece of the evening. The extended a piacere in the final movement initiated an explosive coda which Brendel really made his own, the first time in the evening I really felt he was totally engaged at more than an intellectual level.
His swiftly taken encore, the No.2 A flat major Impromptu from Schubert's D.935 set, was equally absorbing, with a far looser, more relaxed feel than his earlier pair. At this point I would have quite happily listened to him for hours more, but sadly despite a load of enthusiastic applause he wasn't up for further encores.
The sound in the refurbished auditorium - the big question - seemed fine to me, but then I was sitting fairly close to the stage, and never really had an issue with it in the old hall (for solo piano anyway). Coughing and other disturbances from the rear of the auditorium sounded rather muffled and distant - nice for me of course, but I wondered if it worked reciprocally too, and the people at the back weren't hearing as clearly as I could. Outside the concert, the RFH continues to abound in technical niggles - barbecue-temperature 'air conditioning', totally zonked lights in the ladies loos, wet paint on the balcony, etc - not to mention several sealed off areas awaiting rather more than a lick of paint. Some time I think till the RFH will be able to declare itself truly open and ready for business.