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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor Op 15 (1854-58)
Tragic Overture Op 81 (1880 rev 1811)
Erik Then-Bergh (piano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl

Recorded in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, February 1958 (Concerto) and October 1963 (Tragic Overture)
Karel Ančerl Gold Edition Volume 15

SUPRAPHON SU 3675-2 001 [61.02]
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The D minor is one of Ančerl’s less well-known concerto performances, taped in the Rudolfinum in February 1958. It has the advantage of a very individualistic soloist in the now equally little-known German pianist Erik Then-Bergh and the disadvantage of one of the most odd and swimmy recording balances from the Rudolfinum that I have heard. Hanover-born Then-Bergh (1916-82) had made his debut in Berlin in 1938. During the War he’d had the opportunity to work with Abendroth, von Karajan and Jochum and after it he performed mostly in central Europe - his native country, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Collectors may recall his recording of the Reger Piano Concerto, though in the main he kept to the standard classical and romantic repertoire. The Concerto performance is notable both for his occasionally capricious moments and for both his and Ančerl’s eliciting of often hidden or occluded detail in the score. The conductor favours – or does the recording exaggerate his favouring – the horn harmonies and the pivotal brass entry points; it should be said however that this mono has the disconcerting habit of being simultaneously swimmy acoustically and then startlingly vivid – and in unexpected ways such as when the horn parts sweep from their accustomed perspective to suddenly half cover the soloist.

I’m rather glad that some digital frailties in the first movement passagework were retained (though the piano could have done with more exact tuning) because Then-Bergh shows character in retarding rhythmic drive and then moving forward – aided by the conductor whose command of string elasticities is excellent. The soloist is certainly poetic as are the characterful Czech winds (note the expressive, almost chalumeau playing of the first clarinet) and the orchestra generally is fully supportive, though not sinewy or aggressive. The slow movement is well phrased [track 2; 6.10] with an intensity sometimes heightened by Ančerl’s creative balances – I assume they’re all his, because the percussion emerges dully in the balance. I liked Then-Bergh’s Allegretto-like strut in the finale as he tries to stress the humour (often underplayed by klaviertigers) latent in the drama and power. The strings are well contoured [track 3; 4.20] and the tempo is natural and well sustained. All in all this is a solid performance showing character and exploring intriguing localised incident, ultimately let down by the recording. In that respect things are much improved for the 1963 Tragic Overture. This receives a warm and eloquent reading [track 4; 3.20] full of ardent phrasing and aspirant string lines.

For reasons already given enthusiasm for this volume in the Edition will probably be confined more to admirers of conductor or soloist. But even then this is no routine run-through and will command the kind of respect that is its due.

Jonathan Woolf

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Concerto No.1 in D Minor, Op.15 Maestoso

Concerto No.1 in D Minor, Op.15 Adagio

Concerto No.1 in D Minor, Op.15 Rondo. Allegro non troppo

Tragic Overture Op.81

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