Pianist Bernard Roberts has died

Martin Cullingford
Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Born July 23, 1933; died November 3, 2013

Bernard Roberts, who has died aged 80, was not a glamorous pianist but he had a large and devoted following precisely because he was not. But if glamour was limited to the colourful bow-ties he loved to sport, his only true priority was the music itself which he brought to life without a shred of pretension or any attention to himself as a performer. 

A proud Mancunian from a musical family he studied at the Royal College of Music in London where he was later a much-loved professor for many years. If his unshowy platform manner was unlikely to lead to a huge public profile it could equally be said that here was an artist made for the gramophone record.

He found the perfect partnership with Nimbus Records in Monmouth and its first fruit was a unique 'direct to disc' Beethoven sonata cycle in the mid-'70s which established a worldwide reputation for both pianist and label. The spontaneity it captured was a Roberts hallmark equally evident in the highly-acclaimed CD cycle made a decade later even when editing was theoretically possible. Editing however was never part of a philosophy which treated music as a profound journey in time without recourse to any artifice or gilding of the lily. These qualities also imbue his 1999 set of Bach's '48' and the Partitas and French Suites which followed. Even though his reputation was partly enshrined by these 'Old' and 'New' Testaments of the keyboard his repertoire was wide and he had a special way too with Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Debussy as well as a contemporary colleague like Stephen Dodgson whose works he championed. 

Bernard's open and generous personality led naturally to teaching and his wisdom and insight as a mentor were much sought-after internationally. His pupils and recordings will remain the potent legacy of a 'legend of British pianism' as he was described on BBC Radio 3 in marking his death.   

Geraint Lewis

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