> William Kapell 74321845952 [JP]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat, Op. 19 ( ****)

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)

Moment musical in F minor, D.780, No.3
Waltzes, D.145, Nos. 2 in B, and 6 in B minor
Waltzes, D.365, Nos. 26 in E, 32 in F, and 34 in F
German Dances, D. 783, Nos. 6 in B flat, 7 in B flat
Ländler, D.734, No. 1 in G and 2 inD
Impromptu, D.935, No. 2 in A flat.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

Children's Corner

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)

Three Preludes, Op. 34

Frederick CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)

Piano Sonata No. 2, Op.35

Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903 - 1978)

Piano Concerto

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43

William Kapell (piano), NBC Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Golschmann (Beethoven, rec. 1946), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitsky (Khatchaturian, rec. 1946), and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner (Rachmaninov, rec. 1951). Solo works recorded in 1949, 1952, and 1953, (Schubert), 1950 and 1951 (Debussy), 1945 (Shostakovich), 1953 (Chopin), 1946, (Khatchaturian), and 1953 (Rachmaninov). [ADD]
RCA RED SEAL ARTISTES RÉPERTOIRES 74321 8459952 [2CDs: 146'56"]

William Kapell was born in New York on 20th September 1922. He had a brilliant career ahead of him which was cut short when he died in an air accident in 1951. He toured extensively, and recorded some of his wide repertoire for RCA. Much of this has been made available on record and CD, such is the interest in him as an artist who might have become so much more.

This compilation of significant pieces of his repertoire is therefore most welcome (or so I thought when I first received it). Having heard some of the earlier pirated recordings of his works in excerable sound quality, including earlier releases on RCA, I was quite looking forward to hearing this release, as remastering techniques have improved over the years, and, after all, most of Kapell's recordings were made in the late 40s, and therefore should not be too bad.

I have to relate that this issue is a relative disaster. It is not unlistenable, but the remastered sound is so bad, that I found it quite impossible to get any real anjoyment out of it. Initially, I was looking for background noises to be reduced over earlier releases, and so they were, quite substantially so, but at the expense of the sound quality. There has been so much filtering of the sound that what we have here is certainly not an example of William Kapell at his best. The quality of the playing is still there of course, and more interesting to listen to than many other artists. What a pianist we would have had if he had not died tragically, so young. And what a wonderful issue this would have been if the remastering had been done with more sensitivity. Come on Naxos, show us what you can do with this repertoire.

On some of the solo recordings, not only is there an extreme dulling of the sound, but there is also a buzzing on the louder notes which, on headphones is quite impossible for enjoyment. If we also listen not too carefully to the Chopin, albeit beautifully played, there is the unmistakeable swish of a very noisy 33rpm pressing. RCA needs some help in preparing very important historical issues such as this.

I have concentrated on the sound quality rather than the works themselves, as in this case, I believe that this factor is by far the most important, and even with the double album being made available at its low price, value for money in this instance is way down. The orchestral works are less of a problem, as the colour of the orchestra helps to mitigate the dullness of the piano tone, but still, the removal of background noise seeme to be the most imprtant factor for the engineers.

This set will, however, allow you to collect the well known recording of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto with Koussevitsky, long held as a benchmark in this work (with the other famous early performance of the work by Moura Lympany (LPO/Anatole Fistoulari) complete with optional musical saw in the slow movement. You also get the Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody, recorded in 1951 with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony. Both are well worth hearing. The Rachamaninov performance seems to have escaped the engineer's controls - more than likely due to the intrinsically superior quality of the original. The Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2, recorded in 1948, is the least successful of the orchestral recordings but still is not too bad if you can stand the dull tone of the recording.

The solo works are all played with Kapell's usual aplomb and the recording of the Shostakovich Preludes is an interesting inclusion as they were quite rare in the recording studios in 1945. Again superb performances ruined by poor remastering.

The Schubert items, although largely miniatures, have a care applied to them which makes one realise that although miniatures, these are still very much worth having. When played like this, clear, concise and very delicately, they are intimately in touch with the essential Schubert.

John Phillips

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