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News & Reviews

On Szymanowski violin/piano and solo piano music, with Blanka Bednarz:

    ...Violinist Blanka Bednarz is in possession of a very secure technique and, in the main, impeccable intonation ... Bednarz also produces a richly varied tone, which she alters dynamically and coloristically in response to the music’s nuances and subtleties of the moment ... Matthew Bengtson has the lion’s share of this collection to himself ... he plays with technical assurance and a sense of authority in his understanding of Szymanowski’s modes of expression and unique musical voice.
(Jerry Dubins, Fanfare, Nov./Dec. issue, 2017)

    ...Bengtson’s playing throughout the duo selections is superb -- energetic, vibrant, technically impeccable, and in perfect coordination with his partner. He is equally compelling on his own. His account of the four Études of op. 4 (1902) is fluent, well controlled, and effectively shaped. ... It is clear that Bengtson’s intensive study of [the Mazurkas] has given him a deep understanding of it, and his flexible, shapely, and nuanced accounts, with their greater variety, wider contrasts, and more pronounced characterization, stand apart from the more aggressive performances of Hamelin and the steadier, plainer ones of Pöntinen and Roscoe. Bengtson yields nothing to these rivals in virtuosity.
(Daniel Morrison, Fanfare, Nov./Dec. issue, 2017)

    ...Bednarz and Bengtson have produced a fascinating, expressive recording that will help to familiarize modern audiences with the Polish composer’s works.
(Maria Nockin, Fanfare, Nov./Dec. issue, 2017)

    ...These are first-rate performances of the music for violin and piano, moody and atmospheric in the soft passages, big-boned and dramatic in the more aggressive ones ... performances to be enjoyed over and over and over again.
(Lynn René Bayley, New Recording of Szymanowski’s Violin and Piano Works, The Art Music Lounge, an Online Journal of Jazz and Classical Music, August 21, 2017)

    More selected reviews of the Szymanowski recordings.

On the complete Scriabin sonatas, Romeo 7232 and 7308:

    ... Bengtson is a Scriabinist for the 21st century, one who embraces the interpretive objectives most valued by his contemporaries among composers, theorists, and performers. .. Bengtson, who imitates no one, has synthesized the most persuasive elements that the best Scriabin interpreters - Fyodorova, Vedernikov, Zhukov, and Horowitz among them - have set forth over a century. To that end, he can now join those esteemed Scriabinists upon whom future generations can rely for definitive interpretations.    See the whole review
(.. John Bell Young, in Fanfare Magazine, July/August 2015 on the complete Scriabin Sonatas, Romeo 7232 and 7308)

    ... all of the acknowledged great pianists who have tackled these sonatas have their own take on them, ... and Matthew Bengtson can hold his own with any of them.
.. Since I personally listen for the mysticism or implied mysticism in Scriabin, not brute force, I am more than happy with his recordings .. an excellent set of the Scriabin sonatas, and I recommend it. (.. Lynn René Bayley, in Fanfare magazine, July/August 2015 on the complete Scriabin Sonatas)

    ... The sheer color range - especially in the high-register trills and arabesques - of this rarely performed sonata warrants the price of admission.
.. Bengtson joins those Scriabin acolytes - Horowitz, Sofronitzky, Richter, Berman, Barere, Neuhaus - who relish the solipsistic mystic for his own audacious personality, his liberated subjectivity. We spend with Bengtson over an hour in a rarified labyrinth, infinitely and ineffably compelling. (.. Gary Lemco, in Audio Audition website (audaud.com, March 2015) on the complete Scriabin Sonatas)

    ...Bengtson is a remarkable artist. ... Big-boned pianism, rich tonal colors, and dazzling technique are on display here. Has Scriabin ever been played better? Only Horowitz and Richter can compare to what Bengtson achieves on this disc. ... exciting music-making.
(.. Lawrence Budmen, American Record Guide, July/August 2005, on Scriabin Sonatas, Romeo Records 7232)

    ...Bengtson can caress Scriabin’s phrases in a breathtaking way ... these performances are often striking in their color. (.. Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare, July/August 2005 on Romeo 7232)

    More selected reviews of the complete Scriabin Sonatas recordings.

    ...Bravo to Matthew Bengtson on his splendid recital this past Wednesday at Penn, the last event in the “Eighty-Eight Lately” piano series. He took on a formidable program, with music by Melinda Wagner, Berio, Carter, Nancarrow, Ligeti, Takemitsu and Bolcom. I was impressed from beginning to end, but some highlights included Matt’s management of the fantastical rhythmic knots created by Nancarrow in one of his Canons for Ursula; the power of Ligeti’s Automne a Varsovie; the astonishing rasping sound he got from the arpeggiated dense chords in Bolcom’s Premonitions (from the Twelve New Etudes), and the subtle colors of Takemitsu’s Les yeux clos II.
(.. blog by composer/pianist James Primosch, Secret Geometry)

From an all-Bach performance in Triberg, Germany:

     From the very first measures, we understand that Bengtson sees the pieces not as exercises - “for the use of the studious musical youth,” as Bach himself introduced the work - but as music with which to entertain and enchant his audience. ... Bach has strewn this music with cliffs to increase its difficulty, and Bengtson impresses with the ease and precision with which he navigates them. ... the second part of the recital offers music lovers present a moment of true glory. Here, the extraordinarily versatile Bengtson ... addresses the Goldberg Variations with a facility that is rarely achieved even in the canonic reference recordings. ... His faultless playing, at tempi that are sometimes extreme, and with an exactness in his interpretation that is very rarely heard, make us forget that all this is also a major technical feat. The way he “changes manuals” - by repeatedly moving up an octave into the clear and soft treble of the Bösendorfer grand, or by interjecting doubled octaves in the bass - is marvelous.    See the whole review

    This rather young pianist played by heart - a remarkable feat of memory that was combined with a stupendous gift of interpretation. ... With the “Goldberg Variations,” which have also been called the “musical sleeping pills of an insomniac,” the virtuosic artist raised a monument for himself. ... Bengtson’s audience was certainly enraptured, and demanded more with their applause. Bengtson seemed moved by the evening too, and despite having played such a demanding official program, he also presented some encores of Preludes and Fugues.    See the whole review

From Roméo 7280 CD (Albeniz, Mendelssohn, Chopin) :

     From the very first notes, the aptly named Evocacion, the opening section itself of Iberia, atmospherically conjures up the lazy, hazy landscapes of sun-soaked Spain, which Bengtson paints with graphic brilliance. ...Triana begins deceptively straightforwardly, but soon the swirling notes and polyrhythms begin to pile pressure on the pianist - yet Bengtson does not even break into a sweat. ... There are 17 short variations in [the Mendelssohn], many requiring a heroic attention to dense detail and fingers that move close to the speed of light - Bengtson has both of these. A breathtaking work, and an excellent account of it. ... The rousing, spectacularly virtuosic Finale [of the Chopin Sonata] is particularly superbly played by Bengtson, without the merest hint of trepidation.    See the whole review
(.. Byzantion, in MusicWeb International)

     Bengston plays in a warm, lyrical, elegant style, closely allied to that of the French school, and his performances will certainly not disappoint anyone familiar or unfamiliar with these works, ... He is certainly an artist to watch ... I have no qualms in recommending this CD to hear a new and interesting piano voice. Bengtson's phrasing is exceptional; the Albéniz pieces, in particular, are extremely good, having a warm, almost exotic quality that I find quite hypnotic. Bengtson is one of those pianists whose technique, though considerable, is not of the type that draws attention to itself, but to the music. (.. Lynn René Bayley, in Fanfare, 34:5, May/June 2011)

     It's been six years since ARG critic Lawrence Budmen wondered where this wonderful surprise of a pianist came from (July/Aug 2005). I’ll second that notion! I must say I didn’t expect much when I cracked the plastic on this unassuming package from Romeo Records. I certainly didn’t expect the music to sound as deep, beautiful, natural, and nuanced as this. One of the things I like best about Bengtson’s playing is his varied color palette. For the Albeniz he defaults to a warm, mellow tone, which is activated by deft, rhythmic pulses in the bass register. At a moment’s notice, though, he can shift to silvery bright tones. ... Another significant plus is his rhythmic sensibility, which does full justice to the Spanish rhythms that supply a backbone for this music. One more strong attribute worth mentioning is his contrapuntal control. There is a rich multilayered sound to the Mendelssohn Variations, where we get the clear sense that the melody is doing one thing, the middle voice another, and the punctuating bass yet another. This, along with the occasional bonus touch .. puts this account of op. 54 over all the others I've ever heard, including Brendel’s. (.. Brent Auerbach, in American Record Guide May/June 2011)

And here is a collection of additional review excerpts:

     Alchemy for solo piano is perhaps my favorite track. Krzywicki's intuition for piano sonorities pulls out dissonances that are coherent and naturally expressive rather than sounding like some stereotypical dissonant serialist piano writing. He uses the full range of the instrument, from chiming highs, booming lows, ferocious rolled chords, to playing on the strings. Pianist Matthew Bengtson captures the explosive moments of the composition well, and his use of expressive timing makes the notes really tell a story. (.. David Pearson, in "I care if you listen" Dec 28, 2011)

Here is Dr. Debra Lew Harder’s blog on my December 2009 performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and Schumann’s Nachtstücke.

Here is Dr. Dick Strawser's blog on my January, 2009 performance at Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg.

    ...The pianistic highlight of the evening was Tantris the Clown. Mr. Bengtson entered into the role of a Pagliaccio as a great actor-pianist. His is a schizophrenic clown, easily shifting mood, color and character from phrase to phrase. His rendering was so compelling, that his clarity of tone and attack and rich Romantic sound could go easily unnoticed.    See the whole review
(.. Dayle van der Sande, in the Polish Music Center Newsletter)

    Bengtson is not only a wildly gifted concert pianist acclaimed for his performances of Scriabin and Szymanowski, but also a specialist in early music who concertizes on the harpsichord and various fortepianos (early pianos). ... Bengtson brought his own Dutch reproduction of a 1785 Viennese fortepiano (similar to those used by Mozart), with a knee pedal and leather hammers. ... I have to say I was entranced by the sound of this instrument - it sounds like a far-away, ghostly piano with a very sweet tone - and by the way Bengtson played it. ... Bengtson performed Sonata no. 3 (“Philadelphia”) in C major by Alexander Reinagle, a Philadelphia-area composer of the late 18th century, with amazing control of the technical difficulties of the piece and the instrument.
(Susan L. Pena, Reading Times, May 13, 2007)

    ...Bengtson’s incisive, technically impressive readings certainly exhibited the same qualities heard in the best vocalists: exquisite phrasing and a singing tone. ... Bengtson is both analytical and creative, a winning combination for any pianist; the two sides of his brain seem to be perfectly balanced. ... Bengtson demonstrated his analytical side in two excruciatingly difficult Etudes by the living Transylvanian composer Gyorgy Ligeti: the first, “Desordre” had rhythmic challenges inspired by chaos theory and fractals, and the second, “Automne a Varsovie (Warsaw)” was played in three different tempos at once -- a seemingly impossible feat pulled off with elan. ... Bengtson is amazing.
(Susan L. Pena, Reading Times, May 14, 2006)

    ...the program’s musical high point was pianist Matthew Bengtson’s performance of Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 in G. it was in very good hands Saturday evening.
...Matthew Bengtson is a musician’s pianist - the sort of performer who eschews theatrical showmanship in favor of giving his full attention to communicating a composer’s musical thought.
...It may be that Mr. Bengtson’s serious study of the harpsichord contributed to the expressive beauty of his piano performance, where extraordinarily lovely phrasing and crisp articulation, never marred by overly heavy use of the sustaining pedal, provided a classical clarity that brought light to the music. If one part of the performance were to be singled out as special, it might be the second movement's dialogue between piano and orchestra. A critic commenting on Beethoven's playing at the work's first performance remarked that Beethoven ‘sang the lovely second movement on his instrument with a profound sweetness that quite moved [him].’ Had the same critic been present Saturday evening, Mr. Bengtson’s reading might have equally moved him. It was a beautiful performance by both soloist and orchestra.
(.. Courtenay Cauble, The Ridgefield Press, February 13, 2003)

    ...Bengtson displayed remarkable poise, on top of a suave and craftsmanlike artistry.
...played with clarity, sweetness and a light touch that suggested a fortepiano of Beethoven’s time rather than the modern Steinway grand that was actually under his fingers.
...a fine ensemble player, he also has a wonderful sense of rhythm and phrasing, fitting the piano part into the texture of the orchestra rather than dominating the piece.
(Susan L. Pena, Reading Times, April 8, 2002)

    ...The music’s challenges, suited to the most seasoned performers, were managed with a fine mixture of mature capability and youthful promise.
...He took in stride all of the music’s enormous technical demands and rapidly shifting stylistic changes. Rhythms were crisp, harmonies well defined, lines of counterpoint carefully balanced and distinguished.
(Joseph McLellan, Washington Post, April 23, 2001, on Beethoven's ‘Diabelli Variations’)

    ...He made the most of the score, giving it a true Romantic reading.
...He achieved a gossamer, veiled sound like curtains blowing.
(Susan L. Pena, Reading Times, February 1999 on Schumann's ‘Davidsbundler’)

    ...In both performances, he proved himself an artist of formidable intelligence, confidence and charm.
...Never one to take the easy way out ..
...Bengtson's direct style - very natural, with no mannerisms - worked well for him in this piece, which he gave a noble and powerful reading throughout.
...he gave the long, spacious phrases all the breadth they needed.
...Technically flawless and amazingly mature.
(Susan L. Pena, Reading Times, February 12, 1996, on Brahms's Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor)

    ...quicksilver fingers .. incisive, thoughtful interpretations. ...he played a series of short pieces by Alexander Scriabin .. a composer for whom he has a clear affinity .. He played with great delicacy, a beautiful singing tone when called for, and a formidable left hand. He absolutely reveled in these pieces, and his delight translated into readings that communicated fully with the audience.
(Susan L. Pena, Reading Times, April 10, 1995)

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