Reviews Håkon Austbø

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Ein Klangfarben-Magier bei «Contrapunkt»

Der norwegische Pianist Håkon Austbø kann Tönen bis in die letzte Schwingung hinein nachlauschen. Er zelebrierte in St. Gallen ein eindrucksvolles Rezital.

Grosses pianistisches Ereignis vor kleinem Publikum: Wer vorgestern in der Tonhalle bei Skrjabin die Interpretationen eines Horowitz oder Shukow, bei Messiaens Vogelbüchern die Kunst eines Ugorski im Kopf hatte, vergass diese schnell. Håkon Austbø zeigte, wie man diese beiden Mystiker und Klangmaler auch spielen kann – unvergleichlich packend und hingebungsvoll.

Skrjabins Zehnte Sonate erklang für einmal nicht mit nur feurigem Zugriff, sondern fast als Reihung von filigranen, vergeistigten Miniaturen. Ein wenig nordisch Märchenhaftes brachte Austbø da hinein, und Farbe in feinster Nuancierung, die sich verdichtete und zerfloss. In jeder Schattierung dieser Triller- und Tremolo-Sonate zeigte Austbø alles bis zum feinsten Pinselstrich. In kompromissloser Detailgenauigkeit versprühte der energiegeladen und trotzdem weltvergessen in seine Musik versunkene Norweger eine Virtuosität der Poetik, die Skrjabin einen so noch nicht gehörten, fast verwunschenen Zug verlieh.

Extraklasse bewies Austbø ebenso bei Messiaen, den er als Verlängerer impressionistischen Gedankengutes darstellte, nicht nur in «Cloche d'angoisse et larmes d'adieu» aus den frühen Préludes. Extrem farbig, vergeistigt, mit stupender Pianissimo-Kultur durchgestaltet «La Bouscarle» aus dem «Catalogue d'Oiseaux», wobei sich Austbø da nicht nur zum begeisternden Erzähler, sondern zum begnadeten «Mitsänger» dieser naturmystischen Welten erheben konnte.

Mit den (samt Zugabe) drei Stücken aus Messiaens «Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus» stellte sich Håkon Austbø als Messiaen-Spieler der Premium-Liga vor. Die unvorstellbar schwere Partitur höchst konzentriert im Kopf, mit jeder Geste, jedem Anschlag genau dosierter Farbstrahl und religiöse Aussage. Der Ausnahmepianist zelebrierte sein Können zudem in Farbstücken von Karen Tanaka und Tristan Murail.

St Galler Tagesblatt, 11.2.2006

Debussy: Piano works vol.II (SIMAX)

…voici un Debussy glorieux par Håkon Austbø, d’une intelligence pianistique précieuse et rare..

La ligne directrice de Håkon Austbø est aussi risquée que limpide: iriser pianistiquement la musique de Debussy sans rien céeder à la linéarité et à la rigueur.. une école de la rigueur, mais qui, contrairement à d’autres pianistes “analytiques” n’est pas une école de la froideur.

…des interprétations qui comptent parmi les plus belles et les plus riches d’une discographie chargée. Il parvient à établir un “univers debussyste” qui relie discrètement entre elles les nombreuses et si différentes oeuvres du programme.

Dans ce pianisme franc, l’expressivité, au sens “atmosphérique” du terme, est distillé, plus ou moins, selon la nature des compositions, par un toucher très réactif.

Classicstodayfrance

Debussy: Piano works vol.I (SIMAX)
Austbø's first release in what is to become a complete set of Debussy's piano music, is a deeply enjoyable experience. Combining dramatic contrast with exquisite finess of sound, magic moments with engaged motion, Austbø lets the music glow with renewed strengh, right through the century that has passed since it was brand new. (VG, Oslo)

Jubilee recital, Oslo
In this respect there is something sovereign about Austbø on the podium, not only about the technical virtuosity but also to equal extent about the consistency of the interpreter, about what he chooses from as much as what he achieves. Because Austbø is the pianist who doesn't merely achieve what he can, but even more achieves what he wants_ Thus he makes us hear the works he performs in a new way. This is not a bad way to celebrate a jubilee.
Dagbladet, Oslo, 19.2.04

Looking at the jubilee programme already makes one aware of the pianist's signature. There are thoughts behind: this time a leading thread represented by works from different periods conveying nightly moods_ Håkon Austbø shook up and joined the moods yesterday in a modernistic, virtuoso, exquisitely unsentimental grip. 40 years after the debut in the University Hall he carries the same room with a courage and a freshness that many younger pianists lack. This audacity comes forward especially in the French repertoire. Austbø stripped Ravel's shimmering, passionate "Gaspard de la Nuit" of veils and mists. Instead, he conjured up clear colours, a strong rhythmic core and a poetic folly that fitted the three movements marvellously_ Schumann's great Fantasy in C, too, errs between painful insanity and profound joy. Austbø took care of all its aspects with refinement and force, giving the impression that he is almost improvising the moods_ Few performers combine such deepening with such freshness as Håkon Austbø, right through the two encores. Congratulations!
VG, Oslo, 18.2.04

Recital Olavsfestdagene, Trondheim
Some performers have the capability to let the music of dead, famous composers come to you as a refreshing novelty. Håkon Austbø is one of these. Yesterday, the pianist played Claude Debussy's shimmering "Images" as if they were newly discovered fountains of poetic force. He enchanted the Olav's Hall with unsuspected shadings and surprisingly impertinent contrasts, loosely joint, dancing with life_ (he) emphasized the renewing, venturous Brahms. And he lifted this often somewhat heavy German music up towards brighter, lighter spheres.
VG, Oslo, 28.7.03

Grieg: Piano concerto (original version) with Alexander Vedernikov
The soloist is a great virtuoso and an artist with an emanation quite different from Andsnes' who has been the soloist at earlier festivals. Austbø is inside his own musical space and disregards anything outside it. It is as though the music hypnotizes him, a condition that he easily transferred to the public at this closing concert.
 BA, Bergen, 2.6.03

_he gave an intensity and an audacity to the solo part that is seldom experienced. Austbø is an extremely listening pianist, open to everything that happens in the orchestra surrounding him. And willing to take risks, to put himself and the music at stake in his playing. It is as though nothing is decided on beforehand when he puts his fingers on the keys. He plays with high stakes, with and against the orchestra. It is a risky strategy but it yields great music; in this case one of the most intense and dramatic Griegs we heard since long.
Bergens Tidende, 2.6.03

Recital Festival de Sceaux
Invited for the second time, the Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø, especially in Scriabin, revealed himself as one of the major artists of his generation, by the refinement of his fingers, the subtlety of his radiation and the strength of his physical involvement with the instrument.
La Lettre du Musicien, November '02

Rolf Wallin: Seven Imperatives
The pianist Håkon Austbø sank into hyperconcentration in playing that seeks and finds points of support within a limited harmonic palette; the music swarmed, echoed and dripped its way to a singular beauty.
Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm, 15.11.01

Grieg: Lyric Pieces (Brilliant)
What is striking here is his lavish expressiveness, removing Grieg's pieces firmly from the drawing room and far beyond the amateur's reach. Not that Austbø overdoes anything, though his generosity of feeling, immediately evident in the very first piece, as well as his élan and refinement in "Butterfly" and the grandeur which he brings to "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen" all come as a lovely surprise. His playing is warmer, more sincerely ardent than Pletnev's_ It's also technically, pianistically, on the highest level.
BBC Music Magazine, April '02

Austbø is the type of profound musician free from outward ostentation. These qualities also appear in the first recording he made of works by his countryman Grieg_ In Austbø's transparent and tasteful playing, command proves an adequate means to provide the music with lasting tension.
de Volkskrant, Amsterdam, 25.10.01

Marked by simplicity of phrasing, respecting the shape of the melodic lines, as well as by the rhythmical precision of a clear-cut playing devoid of mannerism, Austbø's approach restitutes all the expressive diversity and authenticity of these short pieces _ this splendid recording of Håkon Austbø deserves the warmest recommendation.
Répertoire, August '02

His instrument, with a very warm sonority, sings with elegance and simplicity, without harshness but with vigor, without excessive effects but still not getting prosaic; this results in a stirring poetry, a particular tenderness that illuminate even the most naive of these pieces.
Diapason, october '02
 
 

Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus

Austbø is God

Performances in the quality class 'unsurpassed to historic' are rarities. Messiaen qualified the way in which Håkon Austbø performs his music as ideal. And that was evident on Monday evening: not only because Austbø studied with Messiaen's wife Yvonne Loriod.
The music of Olivier Messiaen is full of symbolic meaning. Sounds refer to colours, colours to significations and numbers to the Creation.
In other words: whoever can interpret this music the way its (earthly) creator meant it to be, is in some way a prophet himself.
Håkon Austbø is a skinny fjordman with a blond moustache and a watery gaze. But when he takes his place behind the piano something changes. Gaiety disappears in a deliric trance, rigidity in a luminous, sheer inhuman stream of concentration. Austbø takes the role of a medium and becomes an intermediary of the music's significance. This requires an unconditional abandon to the music, to be met exclusively with unconditional approval. When Austbø plays, another interpretation is absolutely unthinkable.
The piano cycleVingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus consists of twenty movements about, roughly, the Creation of the Universe and the Jesus child. Austbø performed the 120 minutes of structurally and psychologically involved music without a single flaw, in itself an almost unfeasible accomplishment, since all pianistic qualities have to be constantly available. Big bangs of the old testament (fortissimo) suddenly but smoothly transform into sweetnesses of the new testament (pianissimo). And all colours of the rainbow need to find their musical counterpart in one single instrument, requiring the pianist to conjure up an orchestral sound from his instrument.
Håkon Austbø bended effortlessly to all musical turns, from the emphatically erotic to the celestially sereen, but in exchange he had to hand in his soul.. with the last note the trance broke and Olivier Messiaen and the Jesus child again became simply Håkon Austbø, an introvert pianist, somewhat bewildered receiving his ovation.
Mischa Spel - Het Parool (Amsterdam)

(Festival Musica Sacra)

The culmination of the festival, though, was not all this gorgeous old music. Pianist Håkon Austbø played Messiaen's Vingt Regards in a marathon session from eleven to one thirty at night he played out these emotions in all their gradations, he established musical connections and brought unity into Messiaen's vivid style. For the chosen ones present, this performance probably came closest to the sacred experience aimed at in this Maastricht festival.
Paul Luttikhuis - NRC Handelsblad (Amsterdam)

Austbø opens all registers

Performed anywhere in the world the concert would have brought about a sensation. And so it was, indeed, for those present on Sunday evening when Håkon Austbø played Messiaen's two hour cycle Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus.
I heard the work myself at several occasions and with first class musicians but never experienced anything close to what Austbø achieved on Sunday.
Already the colour of chopinesque melancholy in the beautiful opening movement, followed by ravelian refinement in the second, signalled something unusual, in a business where the specialists of each composer easily lose their grip on the personal recreation and end up resembling each other completely.
But not Austbø. We heard him playing with all registers open, relying upon a lifetime's musical experience and concentrate this with violent force into an unequalled performance.
The appearance of the frail, birdlike figure was a fairy tale in itself, as it gathered all its energy into producing sounds you would hardly consider possible on a concert grand. Thus he didn't just play up to the extasy of the work, a term worn out by its overuse referring to Messiaens cascades of notes. He also managed to get these back to the finest nuances of the music and sing them with restrained force, intensely beautiful and stretched into infinity.
There is much talk about the joy at the rich accretion of Norwegian musicians in the last years. However, this joy is substantially deepened through the secret jubilation at performers of Austbø's stature, repeatedly setting a standard that others may reach for.
Ståle Wikshåland - Dagbladet (Oslo)

King Håkon of the keyboard

Strangely enough, until Sunday night, he never performed the entire cycle of Messiaen's twenty meditations. Late, but in return, magnificent! For years to come, this royal performance will stand as something of a reference for the happy ones present. For me it joins up with inextinguishable memories of Austbø at his sovereign best - Ravel's Left hand concerto in 'Konserthuset' a couple of years ago, or Carter's Night Fantasies at the Bergen Festival in '89.
Austbø's virtuosity was dazzling, total. But it never became a goal in itself. It was fascinating to hear how, at the dizzying heights of technical bravura, he still kept control and completely realised the subtlest gradations of rhythm and tone. The performance was a fabulous synthesis of boundless virtuosity and musical uprightness, and the enthusiasm of the audience was accordingly.
Harald Kolstad - Arbeiderbladet (Oslo)

This is one of the finest sets of Vingt Regards available: Austbo can be hypnotic with his rhythmic control of these very difficult pieces, but he is not a show off either, and his slow phrases 'breathe' very naturally and patiently.
American Record Guide

Several complementary virtues conspire to make this recording by the Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø by far the most satisfying Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesus in the current catalogue
Classic CD 'Collector's Choice'

Austbø's gentle intensity catches the music's extraordinary atmosphere and his moments of percussive boldness get the dramatic writing a grippingly strong profile Recommended without reservation
Classic CD

An extremely impressive achievement, in short, and an essential part of any Messiaen-admirer's collection.
MEO - Gramophone

Hier erlebt man das Klavier als Instrument der Bekenntnis: Eine der wenigen mitreißenden, gleichwohl detaillierten Aufnahmen eines großformatigen Zyklus, bei denen man nicht den Eindruck hat, es würde ornithologische und spirituelle Schwerarbeit verrichtet.
Peter Cossé - Fono-Forum
 
 

Messiaen: Catalogue d'oiseaux

Austbø interprets master Messiaen

Austbø has gone a long way in his approach to Messiaen's musical spheres. The painstaking exactness in Messiaen's notation enables Austbø to create an interaction between temporal aspect, timbre and dynamics that gives a comprehension of space and movement. Austbø embraces the listener; the distance between podium and hall is minimized and contributes to a lasting intimate contact that holds one spellbound.
Idar Karevold - Aftenposten (Oslo)

What else can be said about Austbø's playing than that he lets time and space constitute a higher unity? _ Austbø takes possession of the entire instrument like an eagle sustained by the air currents, and with his enormous wing-span paints landscapes which carry you up and far away from the little venue_ By means of resonances out of this world, Austbø totally released the poetry of this music and thus fortified his position as the foremost interpreter of this monumental work.
Hjalmar A. Kjelsvik - Vårt Land(Oslo)
 

Austbø on excursion through Messiaen's bird paradises

The pianist Håkon Austbø is a great Messiaen player but few people know this except maybe those who know his performance of the Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus on the budget label Naxos.
Austbø, a Norwegian living in the Netherlands, plays the same cycle on Tuesday in Utrecht and there is reason to have high expectations to that performance. Austbø was coached long ago in the subtleties of Messiaen's piano works by Messiaen himself and his first interpreter, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. His performance - of greater contrasts than that of Loriod - makes evident that Austbø isn't content with imitation but keeps up his own, distinguished style.
Of equally great interest is the result of Austbø's excursion through the bird reserves of Messiaen, named
Catalogue d'oiseaux and Petites Esquisses d'oiseaux. Certainly when you consider the fact that this is one of the most problematic segments of Messiaen's work.
It is a world of sounds as intriguing as that of the Stockhausen
Klavierstücke, and as hard for the pianist to penetrate. Austbø seems to do that with the greatest ease, separates the primary from the secondary, transverses the entire skyline during half an hour with La rousserolle effarvatte and at that gives a strong profile to the sonorous possibilities of the piano.
Roland de Beer - de Volkskrant (Amsterdam)

Håkon Austbø plays formidable Messiaen

Håkon Austbø is working on an impressive Messiaen cycle. After the Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus now the release on three cd's the monumental, more than two hour lastingCatalogue d'oiseaux, in which the composer transcribed bird calls to piano sounds. It is a striking recording that easily matches those of the large companies.
Thiemo Wind - de Telegraaf (Amsterdam)

My disc of the year: Definitely a three-disc Naxos set of Olivier Messiaen's mighty piano cycle Catalogue d'oiseaux, 13 movements based on the calling-sounds of different birds, which together constitute one of the undoubted maserpieces of twentieth century keyboard literature. Håkon Austbø is the soloist, and his great achievement was to vividly project the extraordinary range of touch and colour in these pieces without ever over-advertising the extremities of their virtuosic demands.
Terry Blain - Classic CD

...ainsi la somptuosité de la sonorité de Håkon Austbø, grâce à une utilisation magistralement conduite de la précision des attaques et des prolongements harmoniques de la pédale, offre-t-elle aux modelés "decrescendos" des nuances nimbées d'une aura sensuelle quasi magique. Et tout cela cependant dans la clarté d'un discours savamment construit. Ainsi n'est pas oublié mais magnifié le côté charnel profond de Messiaen. Le climat de La chouette hulotte ou de l'Alouette lulu par exemple en porte témoignage.
Jean Hamon - Répertoire

A further recording from a master Messiaen interpreter, Haakon Austbo, in a mixed programme that calls for all his colouristic control

Discussing previous volumes in this series, I've mentioned Austbø's subtle palette of keyboard colour, and his sensitive feeling for Messiaen's characteristic silences. I should have remarked - and it's evident here throughout the Préludes especially - upon his ability to produce different degrees of dynamic simultaneously, without the quieter elements ever being overwhelmed. It adds an almost three-dimensional quality to his sound. Which is not to say that his playing is ever austere or dry; indeed its primary characteristic is sheer tonal beauty, emphasised by what sounds like a very fine piano in a pleasing acoustic (that of St Martin's Church, East Woodhay).
More spectacular pianism is called for in the vivid colours and juxtapositions of
Cantéyodjayâ, of course, and Austbø provides it in fine measure, but even here sheer beauty of sound seems to have been a high imperative.
Messiaen has been very fortunate in his keyboard interpreters. Austbø is among the best of them, and to have such playing available at such a low price is a cause for grateful rejoicing.
Michael Oliver - Gramophone
 
 

Miscellaneous

(Mozart K.V.453)

Austbø belongs to the very foremost of Norwegian pianists, which in spite of this national reservation means quite a lot. It is rare to hear such richness of touch and sonority as with Austbø, where everything is at the service of the musical expression. Pianissimo passages are played around with in a way that only the the best can achieve. The concerto is in fact quite complex in its expressiveness, and this was rendered maximally_Such things generate music. This magic shading was not less present in the encore (Schoenberg).
Trond Arne Pettersen - Adresseavisen (Trondheim)
 

The year's best - but where was the audience?

30 years ago the teenager Håkon Austbø made his debut as a pianist. Long shall last the talking about the jubilee yesterday in Aulaen.
It was beyond comparison the best concert I heard this year. Not because it was technically polished but because it never was about music as show-off.
Where others don't surpass surface finishing, Austbø penetrated far beyond production of sound. The music turned into what it should be: a statement. From thought to soul, from podium to audience, from another time to ours. Here common figurations in Olav Anton Thommessen and Debussy mingled effortlessly - while Schumann sounded more modern than the Frenchman.
Debussy requires all but percussive touch - the result may be monotonous but not with a variety of sound like Austbø's. Just as he is leading us to the innermost meditation, like the light streaming through a church window, the left claw may strike so suddenly as to give you a thump in the diaphragm. Or he conjures up fragments and reminiscences of Brahms like a sail extended in universe. Or, like in the seventh Prelude where the vision debouches into four wandering, lighting bell-tones, as a mirror of the rune structures in Thommessen.
It is rather rare for twelve preludes to cause continuous breathlessness. "Fireworks", often played with virtuoso splendour à la Liszt, was now rendered in vibrating tension. On the other hand Austbø put silence to those who disdainfully characterise the most improvisatory, fragmented preludes as empty formulas. "Feuilles mortes" as well as "Canope" now became lighting summits, preceding an almost shockingly subtle Schumann after the interval.
Yngvild Sørbye - Dagbladet (Oslo)

Schumann: Kreisleriana op. 16. Fantaisie op. 17. Arabesque op. 18.
Vanguard.

Hakon Austbö nous avait éblouis jadis à travers des microsillons Saravah (Janacek, Scriabine). Ce disque confirme l'excellence de cet artiste. L'interprétation d'Hakon Austbö supporte la comparaison avec les plus grandes. Dans la 4e pièce, il vous transperce le cur de ses plaintes à 1'égal de M. Argerich, et dans la 6e, il sidère par ce ton tour à tour intime, incantatoire, fantastique, visionnaire, torturé...
Le jeu d'Hakon Austbö est simple: sans afféteries, il va droit à l'essentiel, de l'emportement grandiose aux plaintes déchirantes des sections Adagio du mouvement initial... son jeu est toujours juste, d'un ton vraiment schumannien, et toujours émouvant, même dans le moindre passage apparemment secondaire du "Moderato", qui prend des allures d'épopée 1égendaire. Et que dire de son toucher aérien, poétique, qui fait chanter les premières pages de l'Adagio final comme presque personne avant lui, qui en fait jaillir une mélodie profonde et bouleversante, là où d'autres ne déroulent que des mornes arpèges?
Philippe van den Bosch - Répertoire

Reflection and ecstasy

A sigh went through the Grieg hall on Thursday as Håkon Austbø put his fingers on the keys and opened the third Bartok piano concerto. Everyone knew something great was about to happen, that this was going to be one of those rare evenings when the soloist doesn't just render the music but creates it anew, whereas we - the audience - are taken into the process and may experience the work from inside.
In the performance of Bartok's ultimate piece Austbø put himself on the edge of the knife, in a breathtaking balance between strong control and generous freedom. He has transcended all technical problems, he knows and masters this complex piece, and his playing possesses a translucent clarity. But it is also constantly trembling with high tension, almost nervously strained. The sovereign mastery of all details gives him the margin to undertake a continuous dialogue with the work - and with the orchestra and the hall: He listens intensively to every little nuance, the most minim change of mood, ready to correct and to give shape, to counteract and to consolidate. And he moves unhindered, with unyielding musical logic, from the breathless prayer in the Adagio religioso of the second movement to the rhythmical ecstasy in the fast, stamping third.
Peter Larsen - Bergens Tidende (Bergen, Norway)

Rare artistry leaves listeners spellbound

It is not often that one gets to hear a pianist whose performance leaves a lingering impression upon the listener's senses. Haakon Austbo is just such a pianist.
From the first note that he struck. he held the listener spellbound. His charisma and intense personality infused even the pauses within the music, accordingly now dramatic, now dreamy, now waiting, now tense. And then galvanised by some hidden, inner energy, his hands would encompass the entire keyboard in the fast and furious passages as well as coax the sweetest of sounds in the most delicate of music phrases.
Flavia De Souza - New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur)

(Gewandhaus Leipzig)

Das Griegsche Klavierkonzert gehört längst zu den Publikumsfavoriten und löste strürmischen Beifall aus, auch dank der musikalisch erfüllten und technisch überlegenen Gestaltung mit dem Norwegischen Pianisten Hakon Austbö. Er begann mit elementarem Zugriff und stellte der virtuosen Eröffnung das elegische Hauptthema mit zarter Klanggebung entgegen. Diese Differenzierung zeichnete die Aufführung insgesamt aus. Überlegen führte Paavo Berglund als gern willkommen geheißener Gastdirigent das Orchester.
Leipziger Volksblatt

(Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphonie, Köln)

Vor dem Hintergrund der weit ausschwingenden Linien im Orchester steht vor allem der virtuose Klavierpart für das Moment der Bewegung ein. Hakon Austbö versah ihn mit diskreter Brillianz.
Stefan Rütter, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger

Un interprète raffiné

Scriabine et Messiaen, une interprétation magistrale de Håkon Austbø à Bogliasco

lnterprète de profondes et très raffinées recherches introspectives sur Skrjabin, protagoniste de l'affleurement pur et vierge du tissus constitutif (ce qui permet d'entendre de nouvelles sonorités insoupçonnées), il met méticuleusement en évidence la complexité architecturale des écritures scriabiniennes.
(Messiaen) Rendre avec cohérence, avec une pareille solidité technique, une lucidité explicative et totale, avec un engagement émotif poussé (sans que ce dernier ne prenne le dessus sur 1'exécution) est une réussite artistique rare, qui place le pianiste Austbø aux sommets de l'interprétation des maîtres du vingtième siècle.
G.D.M. - Il Secolo XIX (Genova)

(Stavanger chamber music festival)

There were performances which one will remember for years to come: .. revelatory, flaming performances of Scriabin by pianist Håkon Austbø
Hilary Finch, The Times (London)
 

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