The above letter appeared in the September/October issue of International Piano magazine. I felt compelled to respond thus, and my letter appears in the November/December issue:
I cannot let Mr Erauw’s simplistic and frankly disrespectful letter in issue No. 51 concerning Alfred Brendel go unchallenged. Although now retired from the concert stage, Mr Brendel is a highly regarded pianist whose performances and recordings of the core of the classical canon – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt – are considered amongst the finest, and whose thoughtful writing on composers, music and the exigencies of the pianist’s life is intelligent and considered, the result of a lifetime spent with this music. Mr Erauw may not like Brendel’s playing, but that does not warrant such an unpleasant attack on the man, particularly while he is still alive – nor on his protégé Paul Lewis, a respected artist in his own right.
Mr Erauw seems to regard piano playing as some kind of Olympic sport where those who play the most, the widest repertoire, or who triumph in piano competitions are considered the “greats”. Brendel chose to devote himself to a relatively small corner (but by no means “narrow” if one considers the huge variety and complexities of writing by those composers with whom he is most closely associated) of the repertoire because these were the composers to whom he presumably felt the closest affinity. Many other “great” pianists have chosen this route and are renowned for their interpretations of, for example, Bach (Angela Hewitt, Andras Schiff) or Mozart (Mitsuko Uchida, Maria Joao Pires). Some pianists choose to devote a lifetime to performing and recording the works of only a handful of composers, with whom they feel a particular connection or affection, often revisiting works in concert series and recordings, in the knowledge that one never plays the same thing twice, and to offer a fresh perspective as one’s interpretation matures or changes over time. Such a long-standing intimacy gives one deep insights into the music and soundworld of that particular composer or composers, and as such these pianists’ interpretations and performances are often highly prized. Such is the case with Alfred Brendel.
Nowadays children and young artists are encouraged to play everything (and earlier and earlier) in the belief that this is what audiences and concert promoters crave. Personally, I am not convinced that having a huge variety of repertoire in one’s fingers necessarily brings insightful or compelling performances, but rather superficial Olympian displays of pianism and “style over substance”.
Mr Brendel’s life’s work should be celebrated and respected while he’s still with us.
Frances Wilson, October 2018