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Piano Classics is unforthcoming about the origin of these live recordings, merely stating that their source is ‘Gostelradiofuund, Russian Federation’. The B minor Sonata is a 1955 performance; the selection from Book 1 of Années de Pelèrinage dates from 1972; on the second CD, the Dante Sonata is from 1971; the Mephisto Waltz No 1 is from 1967; Rhapsodie espagnole is from 1952; and the seven titles from the 12 Transcendental Studies are from various dates between 1950 and 1956 (ie not Berman’s 1959 Melodya recording).

Despite the historical interest of many of its titles, Piano Classics seems to aim its recordings not at piano specialists but at the general music lover who will not be bothered about such niceties. They will not mind that the Sonata is recorded (wherever it was) in an unsympathetic acoustic, that it is given just one track on the CD, or that Berman presents a magisterial view of the work which builds to a magnificent climax (just as Vallée d’Oberman does) and ends with the last quaver pedaled for once, as I am sure Liszt intended it.

Nor will the idle browser mind or notice the splashy moments in a Dante Sonata which is as grippingly tormented as any you’ll hear, though even a non-pianophile might wince at the unfortunate passage in the Mephisto Waltz where Berman loses his way, reassuring though it is to know that such things can happen to the best. And Berman is certainly among that elite, as evinced in the nonchalantly playful treatment of Feux follets and, finally, the unbridled exuberance of Rhapsodie Espagnole.

JEREMY NICHOLAS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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