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This invaluable release contains several issues previously only available in Japan. It also confirms, though with qualifications, my image of this great pianist formed when I heard him at London’s Festival Hall in his seventies. Partnered by Klemperer in Brahms’ Second Concerto, he was the king of all he surveyed. True, he could be gruffand unyielding, forging ahead regardless, and you won’t have to look far to hear a more witty or engaging way with the Rondo alla Turca from Mozart’s A major Sonata K331. Rhythm is occasionally less than ideally poised or focused with a tendency to hurry.

He can be giving and affectionate in Beethoven’s E-flat major Sonata Op 31/3, a work that opens ‘as if the evening star had tapped upon the casement window’ (Beethoven scholar Marian Scott) and closes with a joyous equestrian galop. Schubert’s E-flat Impromptu is played more for virtuoso rather than poetic possibilities. Never one for easy charm, you miss the gentler, more luminous attributes of a Lupu or Perahia.

But Backhaus in Mozart’s undeservedly maligned Coronation Concerto is a special discovery, complete with the pianist’s elaborate 19th-century cadenzas and much enrichment of the central Larghetto’s fragile line. This is a timely reminder of the first pianist ever to record a concerto (Grieg) and whose discs of the Chopin Études continue to inspire awe. A formidable presence, Backhaus at his best was as eloquent as he was masterly.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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