Perhaps the most surprising thing about Alfred Brendel when you reach him on the phone is that the man, in person or at least in voice, is so jovial.
Little about his public image would lead you to believe this. Not the way he hunkers down over a piano, or the way he acknowledges applause, as if in slight distaste.
Not the way he will glare at a misbehaving audience member (he’s been known to stop playing to do so).
Not the thick, horned-rimmed glasses and mad scientist hair, or the quizzical, sometimes pained expressions he wears in photos.
Not the crisply magisterial essays he writes for publications such as The New York Review of Books and collects in books such as “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” and “Music Sounded Out.”
And definitely not his musical interpretations themselves, which seem to dispense with all extraneous nonsense (such as rubato) in their search for the true heart of a work.