Alfred and Adrian Brendel, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Two sold-out recitals for piano and cello; a father-and-son event. Certainly, having Alfred Brendel as a father must help to sell tickets, but how helpful is it musically to be the son of a modern-day colossus? Few cellists can fill a concert hall, even a modest-sized one such as the Wigmore.

Two sold-out recitals for piano and cello; a father-and-son event. Certainly, having Alfred Brendel as a father must help to sell tickets, but how helpful is it musically to be the son of a modern-day colossus? Few cellists can fill a concert hall, even a modest-sized one such as the Wigmore. But this all-Beethoven programme, billed as a duo recital, swayed towards the piano, and naturally so, given that Beethoven explicitly entitled his five sonatas as being for piano and cello, rather than the other way round.

When Beethoven wrote his first two sonatas in 1796, the cello was coming of age. In Opus 5 No 1, the keyboard part is much more elaborate than the cello's, and requires a pianist of formidable skill. With a father such as Alfred, Adrian had little to worry about. The issue for the pianist, apart from quantities of mostly rapid notes, is how not to drown the cellist. Performing with the piano fully open to permit the colours of the instrument to be heard, Alfred never overwhelmed his son.

Adrian placed his opening phrase most beautifully, his lyrical, focused sound wonderfully resonating in this slow introduction. At once, his musical intelligence could be gauged by his calculated understatement, appropriate to Beethoven in his 18th- rather than 19th-century mode.

In the subsequent Allegro, there was fantastic ensemble between the two players. The cello has a fair amount of chugging to do, and in predominately mid to low register, it is hard for it to sound through the piano texture, but this was extraordinary playing. Time and again, Alfred drew the subtlest of attention: a springy bass note; an exquisitely turned ornament; a hint of rubato. In the Rondo, the cello has more trickily exposed material, but it's the pianist's arpeggios that seem relentless.

A good warm-up for the "Tempest" sonata where, indeed, Alfred came into his own, on his own. From the quietly spread, slow A-major chord, "contradicted" at once by fast, urgent, repeated passage work, Brendel's control was breathtaking. This is a work full of contrasts. Sitting so still, Brendel's ability to build and release tension is amazing.

The Brendels returned to play the Judas Maccabaeus Variations, Beethoven's distinctly odd take on Handel. Although probably written at the same time as Op 5, in this programme they served to show how extraordinarily Beethoven developed. In Beethoven's final cello sonata, the Brendels finally tackled the music of equals as equals. I cannot recall the slow movement sounding more hauntingly beautiful, Adrian's Stradivarius pouring forth such abundant sound. And for once, the final fugue, played so delicately, made absolute structural sense. The Brendels' forthcoming Beethoven recordings should be extremely impressive.

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