A good while back I reviewed the 35 CD set on Brilliant 
that contained Brendel’s complete Vox, Turnabout and Vanguard
solo recordings. It was more of a capsule review and I barely
touched on most of the recordings. This disc, likewise, is drawn
from that legacy, and all performances are licensed from Vox.
This immediately causes problems. Yes, this Alto is inexpensive
and it does contain Brendel’s first studio thoughts on the Diabelli
Variations. However, should you want to get Brendel’s thoughts
on the Diabelli Variations, surely you’d go for a Philips recording
— much more recent, more mature, better recorded. And if you
did, nevertheless, fancy this early 1960s recording, why not
shell out a not financially ruinous amount and get the whole
legacy on 35 CDs in a handy box?
The question posed, let’s consider the performances. Brendel’s
Diabelli is by no means callow. It is in fact, despite my suggestion
above, a seriously mature piece of work, though not yet as considered,
or as well recorded come to that, as it was to become. There
are points where Brendel can be rather swift or, towards the
final variations, where he maybe anatomizes to the detriment
of the expressive power of the music. Of its digital power no
one can be in doubt. Brendel plays with trenchant control, with
a truly animating left hand and an acute perception of the music’s
rhythmic emphases. What it does somewhat lack — and this is
surprising given the Brendel we know today — is a lack of humour.
It’s a quality he has as good as conceded was rather absent
in his earliest Beethoven recordings. The Philips disc recorded
live at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1976 was a good deal
lighter on its feet. It had a similar sense of engagement, a
powerful and energetic current, but it was wittily and more
variously expressed. Then too there is his 1988 disc of the
variations, which is perhaps even more characterful.
No complaints about the makeweights here, which cleverly consist
largely of variations. The playing is somewhat more dapper than
in the Diabelli, and often infectiously exciting, but not overdone.
Still, the question as to whether to pick up this disc in preference
to latter recordings is one I can only repeat.
for £5.99 postage paid