Prior to the carefully cultivated garden of delights that is Alfred Brendel's three-decade Philips discography, the pianist's work found its outlet via two American indies—Vanguard, in the late

Prior to the carefully cultivated garden of delights that is Alfred Brendel's three-decade Philips discography, the pianist's work found its outlet via two American indies—Vanguard, in the late '60s, and Vox, from the late '50s to mid-'60s. The Vanguard titles (including excellent Mozart and Schumann) have been remastered to fine effect, and while some Vox material has been available on CD, this 70th birthday boxed set presents Brendel's best early recordings in considerably improved fidelity. These were never audiophile products, but the remastering has helped minimize tape hiss and maximize the pianist's tone. This set is a boon for the way it preserves repertoire that Brendel later eschewed (Prokofiev, Stravinsky), as well as for how it presents first takes on pieces he would master (Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, Beethoven's Tempest Sonata, late Liszt, the Schoenberg concerto). Even if it stints on session info, the budget-price six-CD set includes a booklet with entertaining essays by Harris Goldsmith and Jed Distler. Highly active, Brendel continues to make fans as he both tours and adds to his Philips catalog (with a new two-disc set of Schubert sonatas). This is a must-have item for those who develop a special fondness for this supremely thoughtful master of the Middle European pianistic tradition.—BB

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