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Here is some fascinating programming from Melvyn Tan, who celebrated his 60th birthday last October. Tan presents Beethoven’s last work for piano, the Op 126 Bagatelles in a reading that honours the gestural nature of these pieces. Tan recorded this previously on a fortepiano; here, on a modern grand piano, he finds the stormy heart of the Presto No 4 with precision, force and accuracy, unapologetically using the sustaining pedal liberally for the contrasting sections. Perhaps the sixth Bagatelle could have had that touch more tenderness, and if only the Onyx recording were not over-reverberant; but overall, this is a finely considered account.

Beethoven’s Op 109 and the Liszt Sonata are linked by a rhapsodic bent. The crown of Tan’s Op 109 is the first movement, ardent and searching; the central Prestissimo feels on the careful side, while the theme of the final movement variations is rather literal, robbing it of its inherent, deep spirituality. The magic of this movement remains elusive to Tan, unfortunately; Tan’s staccato touch is also compromised by the recording.

The real value of the disc is the Czerny pieces. The Rode Variations (on ‘La Ricordanza’), a Horowitz favourite and recorded by him, finds Tan in his finest form, with fabulous filigree. No missing the funeral element of the ‘Marcia funebre’, beautifully done here.

Tan’s performance of Liszt’s B minor Sonata shows a real grasp of the piece and plenty of delicacy – poetry even; but there is little sense of the end of an epic journey when it comes to the work’s conclusion. The short booklet notes could have been so much more interesting: a great concept, not quite fully realised.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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