Alfred Brendel strode onto the Lobero stage in old-fashioned tails and seemed to begin playing almost before he sat down. Every move, every gesture, and every note came out in perfect shape and balance. Brendel played with both emotion and intellect in equal measures and left his audience in a state of awestruck wonder.
The recital began with Haydn’s Sonata in C Minor (Hob. XVI:20), a classical-era piece that sounded remarkably modern in Brendel’s hands. Like many of Haydn’s works, this sonata punctuates its symmetrical phrases and clear harmonic direction with surprises, including descending patterns that suddenly turn around and clever changes in dynamics. Brendel’s performance made them all into light, civilized jokes for an elegant party, with his effortlessly crossing hands waving away any bad humor. Underneath this splendid facility lay a kind of thoughtful meditation on the possibilities of pure sound that echoed, faintly, the aesthetic of 20th-century music as well.
Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major (Op. 110) followed, appropriately enough, since this sonata reveals Beethoven’s affinity for Haydn very clearly. Still, Brendel showed us which of these composers truly strove to extend the limits of form and drama in instrumental music as he brought the full range of expression to this subtle and challenging work. Audience members had to catch their breath during the intermission, and it was good that they did. When we returned to our seats, two Schubert Impromptus, No. 1 in F Minor and No. 3 in B-flat Major (D. 935), shook us to the core.
The concert ended with Mozart’s Sonata in C Minor (K. 457), as Brendel once again took the graceful melodies and crystalline harmonies of Viennese classicism to profound depths of emotion and intellectual exploration. The audience gave him three standing ovations before he played a brief encore and then stood once again for another ovation after that. I’m not sure if listening to Mozart really makes anyone smarter, but in the hands of Alfred Brendel it can certainly do wonders for your urge to get up and applaud.