Alfred Brendel at King Edward’s School.
He may have retired from the concert platform but Alfred Brendel remains a consummately communicative performer.
On Tuesday the pianist held 500 listeners in the palm of his hand as he delivered what was the fifth Tolkien Lecture in the magnificent Ruddock Hall within King Edward VI School’s remarkable new performing arts building.
Introducing his distinguished guest, Chief Master John Claughton revealed that KES Old Boy J.R.R.Tolkien in fact came from a family of piano manufacturers – a neat link as Brendel launched into a talk derived from his own masterly book, A Pianist’s A to Z.
Speaking from a lifetime of experience, Brendel addressed so many aspects of the performer’s art – how to balance intellect and emotion, how to observe the way vocalists and conductors cultivate and phrase singing lines (in other words the importance of a “cantabile tone – playing out of the instrument’s keys, not hitting out at them), and, perhaps most strikingly, how a pianist should take composition lessons from a good teacher in order fully to appreciate considerations of structure, notation and general cohesion.
Brendel’s talk was peppered with anecdotes and jokes, often mischievous, and always tellingly pertinent. He also included recorded examples from pianists he particularly admired (“on a good day, when the wind was blowing in the right direction for them”) – Edwin Fischer in Bach, Alfred Cortot in Chopin, and offerings by Schumann and Haydn where he didn’t identify the performer; modestly, perhaps they were from himself.
And his facial expressions during the Haydn extract illustrating humour in music were almost as eloquent as had been his fingers during the many decades when his playing spoke so much to us all.
24 September, 2015