July 13th, 2012

Richard Morrison, The Times

“…the cellist Adrian Brendel eloquently championing three exquisite Webern miniatures.” 4 out of 5 stars

December 9th, 2011

Kenneth Delong, Calgary Herald

Honens International Piano Competition
Adrian Brendel, cello, Aleksandar Madzar, piano
Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary

In the Fall of 2012 the Honens International Piano Competition will once again bring to Calgary a host of brilliant young pianists to joust for pianistic glory. Considering how well these young men and women play, it might well be asked: who is properly qualified to judge the winner among such a group of talented performers? One sober answer might be: only those who themselves have performed to the highest level merit the execution of the responsibility to choose a winner among so much talent.

Putting the judges to the tests, so to speak, the Honens brought to Calgary two of the performers who will judge the competition: cellist Adrian Brendel and pianist Aleksandar Madsar. If this recital is anything to go by, the competitors will be in excellent hands, for it would be hard to find two performers who can give a duo recital of greater excellence than what was heard on this occasion.

The two performers clearly share the same fundamental musical values, including ideas about how to shape a phrase, about rhythm, tone, and expressive nuance.

All the works on the program were performed to the highest possible standard: in a festival week in Vienna a year ago, packed with concerts by the most famous artists of today, I never heard anything better than what was presented to Calgarians on Thursday night.

In his name, Adrian Brendel carries the weight of his famous father with him, but regardless of his background, he is an artist of the highest rank in his own right. His command of the cello is total and his engagement with the music was highly sensitive and technically extremely polished. This was uniquely evident in the gripping and compelling performance of the Variation movement from Bogenstrich by the avant-garde English composer Harrison Birtwistle, a work filled with exceptional demands in tone and original musical gestures. A more compelling performance could hardly be imagined.

I was, unfortunately, not able to witness the participation of piano Aleksandar Madzar at the last competition, but those who were there have never missed an opportunity to sing his praises. And what a pianist he is! Fluent in his pianism to a degree I have rarely seen, he was even more impressive in his miraculous control of piano tone, rhythm, and in his remarkable way of getting to the heart of every phrase.

The considerable technical challenges of the Chopin Cello Sonata were as nothing, with the focus squarely on the music and on the ensemble with the cellist. The same beauty or tone from both players made the opening Debussy cello sonata a treat. And the best came at the end in the finest live performance I have heard of Beethoven’s magnificent Cello Sonata in A major, the jewel in the cellist’s crown. This was a performance to remember and treasure for its utmost penetration into the very soul of the music-which is Beethoven at his very best.

Responding to the exceptionally warm reception, the two performers treated the audience to a witty and fizzy account of the finale of Beethoven’s early cello sonata in G minor. Rapture, rapture-as Gilbert and Sullivan once said.

May 4th, 2011

Erica Jeal, Guardian

Harrison Birtwistle embraced chamber music relatively late in his career, but recently it has been absorbing much of his considerable energy. His new Trio finds him writing once again for cellist Adrian Brendel and pianist Till Fellner. They gave the premiere in Germany last week, but the intended violinist, Lisa Batiashvili, was ill and handed over that performance and this one, three days later, to the breezily virtuosic Corey Cerovsek.

The Trio, Brendel told us, occupies similar territory to Birtwistle’s Violin Concerto, premiered in Boston earlier this year, and his Oboe Quartet, to be heard at Aldeburgh this summer. In one 15-minute movement, it eschews the conventions of the classical piano trio form, while seeming to pay homage to it.

There are three distinct sections. The first is searching, beginning with climbing gestures, angular yet lyrical – perhaps the “long sobs of autumn violins” to which Birtwistle refers in a quote from Verlaine at the end of the printed score. The violin and cello are often out of step with each other, but always on the same team. The piano is a different beast, insidiously introducing the stuttering, mechanical rhythms that will dominate the second section, the work’s core. Having won the strings over, it is the piano that begins to rein the music in again; a quiet, hesitant dialogue ensues, by the end of which all three instruments sound like exhausted automatons.

Succinct, effective and beautifully played, Birtwistle’s Trio held its own even next to Beethoven’s epic Archduke Trio, which followed. Moreover, it seemed weightier than the opening work, Haydn’s Trio in D, a piece so unfamiliar that as its third movement flowed amiably to a close nobody knew when to clap. Fellner was rather too reticent in this, a work that the piano should dominate, but by the encore, another Haydn slow movement, the balance was better.

March 18th, 2011

Richard Fairman, The Financial Times

There has been no hard-line dogma in the programming of “Mozart Unwrapped”. Putting together a year-long series of concerts devoted to a single composer is best achieved by embracing as many options as possible and Kings Place has been admirably open-minded in how it wants its Mozart to be performed and by whom. There is no lack of choice on offer over the year.

The regular audience being wooed at Kings Place, London’s newest concert venue, can only benefit. Having started out on New Year’s eve with one of the piano concertos played by specialists on period instruments – something not heard live often even these days – “Mozart Unwrapped” moved on last weekend to performances of the piano quartets steeped in tradition.

This was not simply a case of playing the music on traditional instruments. The four performers – highly respected Mozart pianist Imogen Cooper, together with violinist Katharine Gowers, viola player Krzysztof Chorzelski and cellist Adrian Brendel – set out with the aim of drawing the maximum expressive potential out of the music with no holding back to mimic the more limited scale of dynamics and tone-colour that Mozart would have heard on the instruments of his day.

The result was deeply involving. For a quartet who cannot perform together that often they achieved a near-ideal unanimity of purpose. Mozart wrote only two piano quartets, which are highly contrasted works – the E Flat relaxed and mellow, the G Minor tense and dramatic. They were composed in the middle of his outpouring of piano concertos in the mid-1780s and in these all-embracing performances felt as though they belonged very much in the same line. The questioning phrases in the middle of the E Flat’s opening movement reached out with unfettered yearning. The central turbulence of the G Minor’s first movement worked up an almost symphonic storm. In the excellent acoustics at Kings Place the music seemed to envelop the hall.

Finding a makeweight for the two quartets in recital can be tricky, but the Kings Place programme came up with the novelty of some of Mozart’s little-known arrangements of Bach. The three fugues with their assorted preludes, arranged for string trio, worked brilliantly. Played with the same unabashed involvement as the quartets, they seemed transformed from their Bach originals – a handful of treasurable Mozart rarities “unwrapped”. 4 out of 5 stars

November 24th, 2009

From the Lancaster Guardian

Cellist Adrian Brendel gave a virtuoso performance right in the middle of a packed audience on Thursday.

With the lights dimmed, the cellist played Bach’s Suites no 1 in G Major, Suite no 2 in D minor and Suite no 6 in D major.

It was an intimate performance and the audience was filled with musical experts and beginner cellist alike.

It was a unique opportunity to observe a cellist at close quarters. It’s the first time the Great Hall has been given over to an ‘in the round’ performance and it was spellbinding.

Adrian ‘swivelled’ – his own words’ – so he faced each section of the audience while playing one of the pieces. And he gently chatted about the compositions too.

He will be back in Lancaster on March 11 where he will play three more of Bach’s cello suites. Definitely worth putting the date in your diary.