Brendel plays Bach with an eloquently noble dignity as well as with truly organ-like tonal contrasts in his own registration, while capturing the dream-like quality of Beethoven's delicately wrought textures.
I've not yet visited Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music, where these performances were recorded, but it obviously boasts an acoustically very sympathetic hall. The first thing that struck me about this disc was the rounded warmth as well as the clarity and general truthfulness of the keyboard sound. Nowhere can sonority per se be better savoured than in Busoni's transcription of Bach's organ chorale, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. Brendel plays it with an eloquently noble dignity as well as with trulyRead more organ-like tonal contrasts in his own registration. In the two following sonatas he never lets us forget Haydn's evergrowing appreciation of the fast-evolving fortepiano, allowing everything to be ''better expressed'', as the composer once put it to a lady friend. Even in the comparatively modest two-movement G minor Sonata Brendel sings its melody with an intensity inconceivable from a harpsichord—and incidentally I enormously enjoyed a suggestion of spontaneous discovery in his playing, as if even he didn't know quite what surprise Haydn might spring next. The roughly contemporaneous C minor Sonata (long hailed as Haydn's very first venture in the sonatas into a minor key), grew from the same Sturm und Drang period in his life as the E minor Trauer Symphony amongst other things. Here, I admired Brendel's sense of proportion, or should I say of style. He conveys the work's drama without inflating its voltage into what was so soon to come from Beethoven in this key. And how beautifully he captures the dream-like quality of the slow movement's delicately wrought textures.
Beethoven's own late A flat Sonata ends the programme, a performance of rare poise memorable for its continuity and unity as a whole. Free of all self-conscious striving for the ''sublime'', the first movement is played with a mature simplicity. Some listeners might miss the explosive drive so often brought to the quasi scherzo. But Brendel's moderation fits into his more philosophical approach to the sonata, with the deeper manifestations of the message impressively reserved for the end.