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S & H Recital Review

Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, Chopin Peter Katin (piano), Wigmore Hall, July 16th, 2003 (CC)

There was something almost cosy about this event. Peter Katin gave a recital in this very hall on December 13th 1998, exactly 50 years since his Wigmore debut, so he has every right to feel at home there. He is a pianist who obviously generates much affection. Although the hall was not filled to the rafters à la Imogen Cooper on Monday lunchtime, those that did attend were evidently supportive. To add to the friendliness of the atmosphere, Katin (I almost feel like calling him ‘Peter’!) arranged to take his water-break between pieces on-stage, adding the occasional throwaway comment for good measure. He appeared on stage open-collared, as if he was about to indulge in some hobby in front of some friends…

My own experiences of Katin are mixed. One of the first records I ever owned was a two-LP set of piano favourites, introducing me to the joys of the well-played piano miniature; a Tchaikovsky First with the Hallé some years later (early 1980’s?) showed an evidently nervous player who struggled with the enormous demands of this concerto. Now that Katin is a sprightly 72 years, I was left wondering what was in store.

He is one of the few pianists who writes his own programme notes (a snip at fifty pence!). More pianists should do this: it shows due consideration has been given to the occasion and gives an insight into the performer. Katin states (in his notes for the Debussy Arabesques at the start of the second half), ‘My idea of putting together this programme was to show that an evening could be spent following the many facets of the ‘lighter’ repertoire’. Do these comments refer to the second half only, or do they reflect his attitude to the works in the first half, also?

The first half comprised a Mozart Sonata and Schubert’s Impromptus, D899 (1827). True, Mozart’s F major Sonata, K280 might be seen as ‘light’, but it requires the style and care of, say, an Uchida, to bring about a meaningful musical experience. Actually, Katin’s account was worse than a warm-up and had me doubting my sanity at choosing this concert to review. The opening was improperly voiced and bumpily modulated. With Mozart’s music seen through a late-Romantic lens, but with a sense of rhythm which was on the shaky side, this made for uncomfortable listening. The ‘Alberti bass’ of the Adagio (a Siciliana) needed an injection of subtlety and the concentration was just not there to sustain the argument, so the movement seemed to meander. The final Presto brought with it its fair share of smudging and the more taxing passages found Katin busking. Repeated notes also had a habit of not repeating.

Imogen Cooper on Monday had reminded us of her Schubertian credentials, even if she had not been consistently on top form. The proximity with Katin was unfortunate. A thumpy, plodding left hand in the C minor Impromptu and pedestrian interplay of voices left me wondering what a finer player would have done. Only in the second (E flat) did Katin begin to inspire any confidence: triplets were smooth, the whole much more fluent. The G flat was the highlight of the set, a restful oasis which preceded an almost delicate enough A flat Impromptu, an indicator of what he might do on a good day. Enough to make me stay for the second half, anyway.

Debussy’s two Arabesques (‘exquisite – if comparatively inconsequential – miniatures’, as Katin puts it) emerged as nice enough if not imbued with any particular insight. Children’s Corner found Katin mostly in his element, for his characterisation often brought a smile to the face. This was an affectionate performance, and if Katin did not quite possess the control for ‘The snow is dancing’, the ‘Golliwog’s cake-walk’ at least tripped along nicely (the Wagner quote was well brought-out).

Chopin provided the material for the rest of the recital. The B major Nocturne, Op. 62 No. 1 sounded almost Debussian to begin with. Melody was nicely projected, and the later ornamental trills were remarkably even. Again, however, recent comparison did no favours to the Barcarolle. Pollini, in June, provided an aural masterclass of emotion meeting natural unfolding; Katin was clumsily literal at the opening, improving as the piece went on to provide some ‘nice’ voicing. But in the final analysis he provided a perfectly acceptable pointer to what the piece sounds like and nothing more.

Although relieved that matters had improved after the Mozart, I can’t say I made my way back to Bond Street tube in any way uplifted by what I had heard.

Colin Clarke

(David Wright interviews Peter Katin on MusicWeb at



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