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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D flat major Op. 10 (1911-12)
Prelude in C major Op. 12/7
Tales of the Old Grandmother Op. 31 Nos. 1-3 (1918)
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)

Piano Concerto in D flat (1936)
Toccata (1932)
Mindru Katz, piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult
Recorded London, December 1958
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD 109 [66.19]
AVAILABILITY

www.cembaldamour.com


It was at these sessions, as I recently wrote in my review of Cembal d’Amour CD 112, amidst the hubbub of a raucous recording studio, that Adrian Boult noticed that Mindru Katz was quietly playing Bach to himself. He motioned for the orchestra to stop talking and together they listened as Katz, oblivious, carried on. "I never knew he had it in him" the conductor subsequently wrote and it was doubtless the repertoire they were recording that had led him to think that – Prokofiev and Khachaturian. That Katz proved himself over many years to be no rabble-rousing, arid tub-thumper is not in doubt and that the return of his performances to the catalogue is a worthy undertaking is equally true.

If I have a complaint about Cembal d’Amour it concerns their documentation. Issued under licence from EMI there’s no inkling as to when and where these recordings were made. According to Alan Sanders’ Boult discography they date from a three-day intensive period between 18 and 20 December 1958; the location was possibly, but by no means definitively, Walthamstow Town Hall. This was an interesting period pianistically for the conductor. Earlier in the year he’d set down Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Bach with Peter Katin, Litolff with Curzon, and immediately after the Katz sessions he went on to tape Dohnányi with Katchen and Mozart with Annie Fischer. In between came the small matter of symphonies by Mahler, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Vaughan Williams’ Job and a series with Alfredo Campoli.

Katz was thirty-three when he made these recordings. Rumanian born he was taught by Lipatti’s teacher Florica Musicescu and he evinces a really splendid control over the architecture of these two works that in lesser hands, the Khachaturian especially, can descend perilously close to bombast. In the Prokofiev he is partnered by Boult in a forceful and active contribution and by the LPO in good, occasionally slightly tentative, form. The glockenspiel and rasp of the brass ring out, as do Katz’s effortless but musically convincing runs and his chordal sophistication. In the Khachaturian he manages to find – critics would aver salvages – delicacy and effervescence in the Allegro first movement and manages to integrate the raucous, brash patina with moments of depth. There is strength but also poetry from him as well in the Andante taken properly, as the marking dictates, con anima. If you are going to insinuate a flexatone into an orchestral score I suppose it had better been done as here, with a sense of almost exotic apartness. And the spirited, trumpet-led conclusion rings out well – drama and colour aplenty, and finding soloist, orchestra and conductor in close, musically rewarding accord.

As a bonus there are some solo pieces, three of the Tales of the Old Grandmother and the Prelude in C major, by Prokofiev, and by Khachaturian’s glittering Toccata. Evocative and excellently dispatched, the third of the Tales, becomes very seriously compromised by wow at 2.50. Otherwise this is a welcome reminder of Katz’s conspicuously superior talent.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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