One of the premier events of this festival was the appearance of a pair of world-class Swedish pianists separated in age by 34 years. One is a cultural hero of his nation. The other is reaching that status. 46-year-old Jan Lundgren, artistic director of the festival and a resident of Ystad, greeted Bengt Hallberg, 79, onstage for a concert back to back on 9-foot grand pianos. Hallberg was the pianist on the legendary 1953 record sessions that this festival’s honorary guest, Quincy Jones, arranged for Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and a group of Swedish all-stars. He was known then, and has been since, for harmonic resourcefulness, the fine shadings of his keyboard touch and a stunning melodic gift.
In terms of those facets, Lundgren has been correctly identified as Hallberg’s successor. However, to describe his current relationship to Hallberg as that of student to master—as a reviewer of the Friday concert did—is to dismiss Lundgren’s growth and development over the 18 years since his debut. One of the leading jazz pianists of his generation, he has demonstrated his individualism in his own trios as well as with such major figures as Bill Perkins, Herb Geller, Benny Golson, James Moody, Putte Wickman and Arne Domnerus.
Having worked together several times since Back To Back, the album that established their occasional partnership, Hallberg and Lundgren have achieved an easy camaraderie that flows through their music. Hallberg’s touch is firmer than it used to be, possibly in compensation for a hearing difficulty, but it is still the envy of pianists everywhere, for reasons evident in the opening “All The Things You Are” and the Hallberg original “Autumn Walk.” They alternated two-piano pieces with solo performances, one moving to a throne-like chair at the rear center of the stage to listen to the other. In his first solo turn, Lundgren created a medley of Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and Quincy Jones’s “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set,” which he dedicated to its composer, sitting in a box seat nearby. Hallberg alone played his composition “Back-Inside,” which had a melodic affinity with popular ballads of the 1920s and ‘30s—”Blue Turning Grey Over You” came to mind—but a subtle modern harmonic sensibility.
Lundgren’s second individual medley began with “’Round Midnight” and ended with a “Yesterdays” in which he managed to strongly hint at Art Tatum without being an imitator. Together on “Autumn Leaves,” Lundgren and Hallberg conjured up counterpoint filled with contrary motion that made the performance a standout moment in a standout concert. That led the audience to a standing ovation and the rhythmic clapping that demands an encore. Following the presentation of sunflowers, the pianists played the Bach “Siciliano” and, after a second standing ovation, a rip-roaring blues.