May 17th, 2014

Roger Jones for Seen and Heard International

“The Nash Ensemble’s final contribution to the Festival concert was Ernó Dohnányi’s Sextet, composed in 1935. The programme notes recall his many accomplishments as a pianist, conductor and teacher at the Budapest Academy of Music; he also promoted the work of Bartók and Kodály. One wonders why music of such quality and vigour is not better known, but presumably at the time it was dismissed as old-fashioned fare and compared unfavourably with the avant-garde works of Schoenberg, Berg and Bartók himself. Yet it is a flawless and enjoyable piece by a master orchestrator at the height of his powers. It begins dramatically with a dark mysterious horn theme until a lyrical viola melody dissipates the tension and generates calm. The Intermezzo begins with a soothing chorale but later the piano adopts a more martial tone – reflecting the growing tension in Europe in the Thirties, perhaps – but this eventually fades away. The Allegro con sentimento – a theme and variations introduced by the clarinet – was suitably varied, and was followed by a boisterous Finale with plenty of syncopation, puckish humour and zany dance forms, including a waltz. The normally very composed Nash Ensemble decided to let their hair down, with cellist Adrian Brendel grinning from ear to ear throughout, and the audience were borne along by the infectious rhythms. This elite ensemble never fails to impress with their musicianship, and tonight they exceeded everyone’s expectations by promoting two delightful rarities alongside established and much loved masterpieces.”

May 1st, 2014

Andrew Clements for The Guardian

“Releases marking Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th birthday this year are already filling some important gaps in his discography. After Signum’s wonderful recordings of choral works in February, this ECM disc includes some little-known recent chamber music, though none of it is especially substantial in its own right. The 12 settings for soprano and cello of Lorine Niedecker, the early 20th-century objectivist poet, were assembled a few at a time about 15 years ago. Terse to the point of aphorism, they are perhaps the most Webern-like of all Birtwistle’s works, capable of opening up huge, expressive vistas from just a handful of notes; Amy Freston and Adrian Brendel catch that spareness perfectly. In Bogenstrich, for baritone (Roderick Williams), piano (Till Fellner) and cello, three thematically connected movements for cello and piano – one a song without words – are framed by two settings of the same Love Song by Rilke. As with the Piano Trio, composed two years later, it projects a sense of emotions kept tightly in check, and of surfaces that only occasionally reveal the forces that are moulding them.”

April 26th, 2014

Richard Morrisson, The Times, April 2014

“Approaching his 80th birthday in July, Sir Harrison Birtwistle is still regarded as an uncompromisingly dissonant modernist, but this gripping disc of fairly recent chamber and vocal music is unexpectedly playful, tender, mysterious, mellow, sparse and elegiac. The performers are top notch – violinist Lisa Batiashvili, cellist Adrian Brendel, pianist Till Fellner, soprano Amy Freston and baritone Roderick Williams – and the interpretations intense and cogent.”

March 26th, 2014

Ben Hogwood for classical

“Elliott Carter continued a rich vein of composition right up to the end of his 103-year-old life in 2012, so much so that Enchanted Preludes, completed in his eightieth year for flute and cello, carries the feeling of a mid-period work. There is a spring-like freshness to this music, the composer’s writing frequently bringing the two instruments into confluence for melodies of grace and, initially, nervous energy. With the glassy tone of Adrian Brendel’s harmonics the enchantment of the title was frequently cast, with Philippa Davies’s splendid tone easy to admire too. Even when the two instruments were more animated there was a sense of otherworldliness, helped by an almost complete lack of bass despite the presence of the cello.”

December 2nd, 2013

Norman Stinchcombe for the Birmingham Post

“In the opening prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 I found Adrian Brendel’s playing a little perfunctory, even slightly rough-edged. However, I soon came to appreciate his particular qualities and found this a performance to savour.

He may lack the immediately ingratiating honeyed tone of, for example, his younger contemporary Leonard Elschenbroich but has a fierce musical intelligence and plays with a Klemperer-like pursuit of truth before sheer beauty.

Each dance movement was vividly delineated with the Sarabande as the slow, steady heartbeat of the work. The closing Gigue was ebullient with delightful drone effects where Bach suggests a rustic band accompaniment.

He brought the same vivid characterization to Schubert’s Arpeggione sonata, especially in the playful Allegretto, with some fizzing pizzicato. The piano role here is a supporting one; the star was originally the guitar-like bowed arpeggione, a now forgotten novelty instrument.

Imogen Cooper emerged as a true partner in Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G minor, as romantic and warm-hearted as his second piano concerto composed just before it. I heard this sonata three years ago and although in very close proximity the cello was inaudible: here the balance was perfect, a tribute to this partnership’s skill.

The Allegro Scherzando was outstanding with both players obviously relishing the music’s mordant wit and foregrounding its sinister qualities. They were equally adept in two melancholy miniatures by Liszt, the Elegie II and Romance oubliée, whose austere stripped-down musical structures sounded years ahead of Rachmaninov, with Brendel’s playing especially poignant in the latter work.”