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Niels Viggo BENTZON (1919-2000)
The Tempered Piano (1964-1996) (selections)
Per Salo (piano)
rec. 2019, Symfonisk Sal, Musikhuset Aarhus.
DACAPO 8.226077 [78:05]

Niels Viggo Bentzon’s music is almost invariably impressive, and this collection of Preludes & Fugues embodies his reputation as an unstoppable creative force, and one of Denmark’s liveliest musical minds of the 20th century. In the tradition of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis and the 24 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich, NVB was never going to stop at just one set of such works, and between 1964 and 1996 he composed no fewer than thirteen volumes. NVB sums up his swift writing style in these piano pieces succinctly: “All I do is write down what comes. Sometimes a huge amount comes, at other times nothing at all. I’m not in control… They are almost frozen improvisations.” He admitted that some of these pieces might be better than others, and in this selection Per Salo has chosen what he considers the best of these Preludes & Fugues, forming them into a new set of 24 in keys rising chromatically from C major to B minor.

Per Salo is a force of nature as well judging by the energy emanating from this recording, and the synergy between performer and composer is as close as you could wish. There is such a huge variety of style, mood and character here that it’s hard to make firm definitions. I was pleased to see that Per Salo has given four broad categories to these pieces: The Manic, The Depressive, The Roguish and The Violent. Such over-arching labels of course only tell part of the story in this most subjective of responses, but with subtitles such as ‘Frisky’, Sarcastic’ and ‘Catastrophic’ you can get some idea of the content. There is a sense of freedom in these pieces that communicates their improvisatory origins, and the fugues are by no means strict in terms of following Bach or Palestrina-like models. Some do, but as the booklet notes indicate they can range from two-part inventions to “completely free aphorisms.” NVB can be caught having fun with other composers, the Prelude in F minor for instance digging into Mussorgsky’s Cattle from Pictures at an Exhibition. His clearly brilliant pianism allowed him to explore anyone and anywhere, the following Fugue in F-sharp major being perhaps closest to Shostakovich’s work in this genre from this set. From the riches of Lisztian textures to the most sparing and Webernesque of moments, you will find it all here.

This very well produced recording has but one competitor. Niels Viggo Bentzon undertook the herculean task of recording all 13 volumes of The Tempered Piano in the 1990s and this has been released on the Classico label though you’ll only find it as a download. I think it’s fair to say that NVB was past his prime as a performer by this time and the recording is a bit thin, but this is still a remarkable document of what has to be considered Denmark’s greatest work for solo piano. Per Salo remarks that “NVB himself referred to [it] as his musical will and testament”, and there has to be the hope that this relatively compact but brilliant overview of such an achievement might encourage greater interest in this remarkable work.

Dominy Clements

Contents
Book 7, Op. 530: Prelude & Fugue in C Major [2:10]
Book 1, Op. 157: Prelude & Fugue in C Minor [2:34]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in C-Sharp Major [0:54]
Book 2, Op. 379: Prelude & Fugue in C-Sharp Minor [3:54]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in D Major [1:34]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in D Minor [4:33]
Book 2, Op. 379: Prelude & Fugue in E-Flat Major [3:42]
Book 4, Op. 409: Prelude & Fugue in E-Flat Minor [4:03]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in E Major [1:18]
Book 5, Op. 428: Prelude & Fugue in E Minor [2:19]
Book 4, Op. 409: Prelude & Fugue in F Major [3:58]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in F Minor [5:12]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in F-Sharp Major [2:18]
Book 7, Op. 530: Prelude & Fugue in F-Sharp Minor [3:11]
Book 5, Op. 428: Prelude & Fugue in G Major [2:06]
Book 4, Op. 409: Prelude & Fugue in G Minor [3:11]
Book 4, Op. 409: Prelude & Fugue in G-Sharp Major [3:07]
Book 4, Op. 409: Prelude & Fugue in G-Sharp Minor [6:24]
Book 7, Op. 530: Prelude & Fugue in A Major [2:00]
Book 8, Op. 532: Prelude & Fugue in A Minor [4:20]
Book 5, Op. 428: Prelude & Fugue in B-Flat Major [2:23]
Book 4, Op. 409: Prelude & Fugue in B-Flat Minor [2:38]
Book 5, Op. 428: Prelude & Fugue in B Major [2:35]
Book 2, Op. 379: Prelude & Fugue in B Minor [7:27]



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