A recital by pianist Alfred Brendel closely resembles a brilliant lecture by a beloved eccentric. Hunched slightly forward like an anxious professor on his way to class -- an impression heightened by his black-rimmed glasses and gray fringe of hair -- he hurries to the keyboard. Finding some point of reference uniquely his, he gazes straight ahead as he delivers provocative interpretations that, like Saturday night's recital at the Kennedy Center, will enrich his listeners for weeks to come.
The subtle details of his style, realized by an immaculate technique and touch, make him a musician's musician. At the same time his masterly intellect and cultivated wit charm the more general audience. He plays as if standing right beside the composer, showing with an accent here, an emphasis there, exactly how the creative process unfolded in that particular piece.
He caught precisely the classical balance between filigreed lightness and tensile strength in both the late Haydn C-major Sonata, Hob. XVI/50 and Beethoven's F-major Andante. The final Haydn movement included an especially delicious passage in which Brendel, chuckling along with Haydn, pointed up his delight in confounding expectations.
With Liszt's "Vallee d'Obermann" and the B-minor Sonata, Brendel entered fully into that stormy romantic sensibility, building from the intense fragments an exceptionally coherent emotional whole. His final migration into the shimmering purity of the Sonata's closing moments brought the evening to a transcendent close.