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PETER KATIN in recital. LISZT Piano Sonata; BRAHMS Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel Op 24; LISZT Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (Années de Pélérinage, second year)  . Peter Katin (piano) From a recital recorded in April 1983 at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. ADD Minerva Athene. ATH CD9 [67' 45"]



My admiration for Peter Katin is both well-known and well-founded. This may lead a cynic to castigate me as being prejudicial ... and, with this anxiety in mind, I decided to review this CD in a highly critical spirit. I placed the music before me accompanied by a pen and notebook to jot down any flaw, mistake or detail that I did not like. Seventy minutes later the notebook was blank and I had experienced not only a wonderful feast of quality piano music but performed with total accuracy and complete faithfulness to the score. It was a rare experience and yielded that inexplicable joy that only the greatest music and finest performers can render.

The use of language creates problems. There is no doubt that the Liszt Sonata is great music, one of the towering masterpieces of the piano repertoire. And then, I hear people talk about some of Schubert's piano music being great as well, and while I do not wish to disparage the melodious Schubert, one cannot possibly use the same adjective fairly for, in so doing, injustice will be levelled at Liszt.

This Sonata was introduced to me by my professor, Humphrey Searle at the RCM. Humphrey was, and probably remains, the world expert on the music of Liszt and we went through it bar by bar several times.

Katin's performance is exemplary and he observes all the detail in the score. The opening Lento assai is sotto voce and arresting. The allegro energico, beginning at bar 8, is exactly that and the bass marcato passages are precisely captured and when, in bar 19, the composer calls for agitato and, later, a crescendo and più crescendo that is what we get. Every phrase is beautifully shaped and the journeys to the big climaxes are always a natural progression of the music. At bar 23, we truly have sempre forte ed agitato and some dazzling finger work. The range of his staccato is quite amazing. At the first of the notorious double octave passages at bar 47 all we can do is be overwhelmed by the power and stunning playing and feel so humbled realising that we could never play like this, and at such a confident speed. The many distinguished pianists who 'fake' this passage with 'slowing downs', and falsely explain this as rubato are legion. To add to the formidable difficulties of the double octaves the composer later calls for it to be sempre staccato ed energico assai. And it is ... here. At bar 98 we have the 'big tune' marked grandioso. Fortunately, Katin does not vamp it as some pianists do, nor does he relegate it to Edwardian pomposity or medieval self-importance. Fifty bars later, at the cantando expressivo passage the wonderful warm romantic lyricism is expertly captured and when it reappears in octaves and in F sharp minor in the quasi adagio section the tenderness has a genuine beauty which is never allowed to become mawkish. There are many important details that listeners could pass over. For example, the long trills are beautifully controlled and so well-integrated. How many times have we heard lesser pianists make such an emphasis on trills as if it were a theatrical device.

Not only was Liszt writing in a romantic style but a classical style as well, as shown in the D flat major fugal passage marked allegro energico.

Peter Katin observes Liszt's stringendos which precede the fearsome double octave passages. How many 'great' pianists do not? ... and we know why. And the presto double octave passage leads to prestissimo still in double octaves and many pianists hardly reach an allegretto.

The recording was made sixteen years ago and I have heard recordings with a brighter sound but the sound here is completely acceptable. I have heard some more exciting performances but they interpret Liszt as if he were a thumping circus performer and such readings are seriously flawed.

This superlative performance is class.

The Brahms is also faithfully played and with a rugged grandeur and infectious swagger. There is a smart and enviable elegance in another committed performance of insight which enhances this very fine work.

The Sonnet 123 is another performance of distinction and, as often with this pianist, it was a thought-provoking performance in its extraordinary and fascinating unfolding.


David Wright



see also David Wright's interview with Peter Katin


see compilation of reviews here

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David Wright



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