Richard Stokes, Alfred Brendel's interlocutor on the stage of Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre last evening, and the celebrated, recently-retired pianist gave us full value for money. The Everyman is used during the Music Festival, of course, but Brendel, a frequent July visitor to Cheltenham during the greater part of his playing career, will probably never have graced its stage before last night's Festival of Literature event.
We were as surprised as the audience at the first performance of Beethoven's G Major piano concerto must have been, by Brendel starting by introducing his interviewer: a very civilised idea, I thought, and one which could well be replicated for other events.
The two were obviously good friends, Professor Stokes being able to bring out twin aspects of his subject, his high seriousness and his impish, almost schoolboy humour. As Brendel said, wit and profundity are not mutually exclusive. In some works, Beethoven Op 31 no 1 was an example he gave, when a pianist hasn't made an audience laugh, he should become an organist.
As an illustration that a musician needs to sing and speak in tandem, we were treated to a story passed down by the late Sándor Végh: as a young violinist, he was playing for Chaliapin. "You can sing well on the violin, but you don't speak enough," the Russian bass advised. Later, Végh said he learnt the "speaking" from Casals.
Last night, the pair were introduced by current Festival Director, Meurig Bowen (seen here at the outset - I wasn't allowed to take photographs later on). I was proud to see my 1976 photograph of Alfred and Adrian Brendel, with Imogen Cooper plus Greenway cat, flashed up on the big screen.