Wednesday, 14 June 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, June 2017)

The Complete Decca Recordings
Decca Records (35 CDs) / *****

Whenever music connoisseurs refer to the “lost generation of American pianists”, they mostly refer to William Kapell and Julius Katchen, artists whose lives were cut short long before their time. The Paris-domiciled Katchen (1926-1969), generally better known to local record collectors, succumbed to cancer at the age of 42. This collection of his complete recordings on the British Decca label dates from 1947 (his first recordings were on 78 rpm shellacs) to 1968.     

The discography covers Mozart and Beethoven to 20th century giants like Rachmaninov, Bartok, Prokofiev and Britten. He also championed the still-living American Ned Rorem's Second Piano Sonata. Most of all, Katchen is remembered for recording Brahms' major piano works, including the Sonatas, Variations, short pieces (all 21 Hungarian Dances too) and both Piano Concertos. Still considered by many as peerless, the playing combines vigour with tenderness, illuminating the gruff German's inner soul.

There are two recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, with the 1955 version partnered by Mantovani and his Orchestra. Pianophiles will cite his electrifying Liszt-playing, an authoritative Mussorgsky Pictures At An Exhibition and two takes on Balakirev's Islamey, both that race through under 8 minutes. An artist who accords the great classics and virtuoso showpieces in equal regard deserves his cult status.

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