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“Alfred Brendel Plays and Introduces Schubert, Volumes 1-5,” is a series
of five DVDs of 13 films made during 1976 and 1977 for television by
Radio Bremen in Germany. The focus of these films is the mature
(i.e., 1822-1828) music for solo piano by Franz Schubert. We have just
finished viewing Disc One, consisting of three works: the “Wanderer
Fantasy in C Major D760” (1822), the “Piano Sonata in A Major D784”
(1823), and the unfinished “Piano Sonata in C Major D840” (1825).

These DVDs are very special, primarily because each piece is preceded
by a lecture of roughly 10 minutes by Brendel, which is delivered from
his notes while sitting at the keyboard. He demonstrates a depth of
insight that is obviously the product of a great deal of thought and study.
As expected from such a well-known “Schubertian,” the performances are
quite good. However, Brendel does have an interesting keyboard manner,
complete with nervous ticks and twitches. Once again, I noticed bandages
on a few of his fingers, which I initially observed while watching the “Alfred
Brendel: In Portrait” DVD.

Of course, it’s the actual performances that count, and they are fine ones.
They seem to be almost painstakingly prepared, and perhaps at times, a bit
“over-studied.” The two Sonatas featured here are not as well known, and
like most of Schubert’s later Sonatas, require a greater degree of attention and
concentration than the more famous “Impromptus” and “Moments musicaux,”
which are also featured in this series.

These works have a fine advocate in Alfred Brendel, and I was quite grateful
for the opportunity to revisit them. I eagerly look forward to the other four
discs in the series. In particular, the “Wanderer Fantasy” is more well known,
and dates from 1822. In fact, it is perhaps the first well-known example of an
extended piano work in a single movement with four distinct sections, which
are tied together cyclically by a theme, undergoing different transformations.

For the most part, the recorded sound was decent, although I noticed that
toward the end of the “C Major Sonata,” the sound began to break up and dissipate. Perhaps this was a result of the conditions in the television studio
at that time.

Judging from this first volume, “Alfred Brendel Plays and Introduces Schubert,
Volumes 1-5,” on the EuroArts label is highly recommended.