Remember Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly? The Swedish director's meditation on madness presents life as unendurable, death as unbearable, and God as a malevolent spider just beyond the wall. Remember the music? How Bergman set the mood with snatches of Bach's C Minor Cello Suite, played with palpable but restrained despair? Well, the cellist in Through a Glass Darkly is the supremely lyrical Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, now a U-M music professor and one of the nicest guys you could ever have the pleasure to meet.
That's Bengtsson's biggest problem. He's an amiable and self-effacing man in a profession that requires its soloists to be flamboyant and aggressively self-assertive, if not outright obnoxious. So while Bengtsson has a technique second to none and a tone as rich and warm as late summer, he doesn't enjoy a reputation commensurate with his extraordinary abilities — in America. (He's considered the greatest living cellist in his native Denmark and as one of a handful of great living cellists in the rest of Europe.)
But because he has been a member of the U-M faculty since 1990, Ann Arborites have been able to enjoy Bengtsson's performances — for free — in the intimacy of the music school's Britton Recital Hall. In the past, Bengtsson has played Bach's complete Cello Suites and Beethoven's complete Cello Sonatas as well as recitals of mixed repertoire. On Friday, November 21, at Britton, he performs some of the most attractive and emotional works in the cello repertoire, accompanied by pianist Nina Kavtaradze. The Russian-born Kavtaradze is a fiery virtuoso whose personality is as extroverted as Bengtsson's is introverted.
The repertoire suits Bengtsson. The Brahms F Major Sonata that opens the program is a glorious late German Romantic work with a lush and lyrical Adagio affettuoso and an ardent and wistful Allegro appassionato. The Debussy D Minor Sonata that follows is a gorgeous French Impressionist work with a melancholy Prologue, a mysterious Serenade, and a brilliantly
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