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This album ranks high among the glories of APR’s already glorious series. The German pianist Erik Then-Bergh hardly achieved the fame of compatriots such as Backhaus or Kempff, but as this album clearly shows, he was a pianist of both a formidable command and deep sensitivity.

There is nothing in him of the showman. Indeed, in the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, he surpasses Michelangeli (the most celebrated of this work’s interpreters) in richness, humanity and in sheer interest – a far cry from what I have sometimes called Michelangeli’s ‘Prussian Offi cer severity’. If as one critic put it, ‘you don’t play the opening of Beethoven’s opus 101 Sonata as if it was the most beautiful music in the world there is something wrong,’ then Then-Bergh provides a truly seraphic answer. The sense of desolation he achieves in the Adagio is followed by a finale suffi ciently exuberant to remind you of the over-fanciful Helen from E M Forster’s Howards End who saw goblins and dancing elephants in the music.

Then-Bergh is no less attuned to Schumann’s romanticism at its most feverish (faster, faster and still faster, his instruction at the close of the Sonata in G minor’s first movement). As encores he gives us Reger’s Silhouetten which take Schumann’s schizophrenia still further. He is surpassingly beautiful in Chopin’s B major Nocturne (few others have emphasised the opening’s harmonic audacity to such a magical degree): here there is ‘something of the night’ in the most imaginative sense. Finally, Reger’s massive and daunting Variations and Fugue on a theme of Telemann and the Piano Concerto, where every seemingly insurmountable obstacle is conquered with unwavering mastery and commitment. Transfers are excellent (less so in the Variations), and there is a long and informative accompanying essay and interview. This is largesse on a grand scale.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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