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L'a musique est pur sentiment’ – music is pure feeling. These were the words with which Dinu Lipatti ended the press interview after his final concert at Besançon, a few weeks before he died from cancer aged 33. That was in 1950: his recordings of Bach, Chopin, Schumann, and Ravel have been benchmarks for excellence ever since. But ‘excellence’ doesn’t begin to do him justice. The grace and refinement of his playing seemed preternatural, a kind of perfection to which many pianists aspire but few attain – and none with the dependability which was his hallmark.

Lipatti was a near-coeval of Richter, Annie Fischer and Nikita Magaloff, but his sound, unlike theirs, seems to speak from an era long-gone. This double album brings together tracks which have hitherto been hard to find, including five unissued test discs made with the cellist Antonio Janigro which suggest what an ideal pairing they would have been, had Lipatti lived longer. Mark Ainley’s liner essay gives all the facts surrounding the Romanian pianist’s bumpy career with Columbia; he is at pains to dispel the commonly held view that Lipatti was too delicate a bloom to cope with large-scale ebullience.

It has to be said that Grieg’s concerto doesn’t allow his qualities to shine, but Schumann’s most emphatically does: its expressiveness is exquisitely judged, and the Andantino never sounded so tender. Numerous celebrated gems complete the collection: Scarlatti sonatas with jewelled perfection, Chopin’s D-flat major Nocturne with immaculate poise, Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso ending in an ecstatic explosion of staccato figurations, and the sublime calm of Myra Hess’s version of Jesu, joy of man’s desiring.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica

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