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5.6.06

Liszt via Brendel: An Illuminating Trip Through Jahre der Wanderschaft 

available at Amazon
F. Liszt, Anné de Pèlerinage, Alfred Brendel
available at Amazon
Schubert Sonatas - DVD

available at Amazon
Schubert Sonatas - double CD

available at Amazon
Liszt - Bolet

available at Amazon
Liszt - Berman

With his crazed, hypnotizing (and frankly: weird) stare from those steel-blue eyes, Alfred Brendel looks straight at us from the screen, indulging us in his thoughts on Franz Liszt’s Anné de Pèlerinage, introducing us to important background information, informing our understanding of the music along with the ‘mottos’ of Schiller, Byron and Senancour that are associated with each ‘picture’. The look on his eyes is all intensity and contrasts with his mellow, intellectually, carefully phrased talk; every syllable pedantically cared for. He even mispronounces with such authority that you don’t question it but assume that that’s probably the true proper pronunciation, anyway. The experience may be unsettling at first, but wedged between each expertly played ‘picture’ of this two-partite cycle about Liszt’s own travels through Switzerland – the first year – and Italy – the second year – (a third, separate episode was later added by Liszt but is different in character and style), these vignettes of commentary are what makes this DVD, with all the tension it exudes, so outstanding and enjoyable.

Whereas his DVD with the three late Schubert sonatas offers greatly enjoyable performances, the bonus of a DVD is rather limited here: To see Brendel alone in the Great Hall of the Middle Temple in London, alone, in tails, may offer a handful of fascinating shots of his hands running up and down the keyboard or punctuating a chord with particular vigor. But ultimately I’d be more likely to turn to a performance of my choice on an audio recording (including the recent issue of live recordings of Brendel’s in the last five sonatas) than be perched in front of the TV for my Schubert. It is in the commentary of the Liszt where the DVD format’s real edge over the CD format comes in. While I might still turn to Lazaar Berman or perhaps Jorge Bolet for these works on record, it is precisely that informed, brief yet thorough introduction before each work that makes this issue special, that adds much to your understanding not only of the pieces itself but also interpretive choices: Brendel’s and others pianists. With him you follow the footsteps of Liszt, himself following the footsteps of George Sand’s Lettres des Voyageur, Lord Byron’s Harold, Senancour’s Obermann, Madam de Staël, Goethe and Montesquieu. For those who have their DVD player coupled with a good sound system it would have been a good idea to be able to skip the introductions so as to have the performance double as a ‘pure’ recording. Others might well be tempted to skip the performances to just get the uninterrupted talk. Either way: An intriguing offering from Universal and Brendel who, the now 75 years old, was 55 at the time of the making, and already looked like an dignified, wise old man, and Athenian Owl.

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