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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
4 Impromptus D.899, 4 Impromptus D.935
Peter Katin (Clementi square piano of 1832)
Recorded 18-19, 21-22 December 1993 at Peter Katinís studio

The booklet contains an informative note by the restorer of this 1832 Clementi square piano, Andrew Lancaster. Peter Katin himself, as well as writing about the music, also discusses the fascination which playing the music on such an instrument holds for him, when throughout his career he has played it on the modern piano. "It is necessary to understand that here is a different and special sound-world, and the player has to understand that an equally valid interpretation is possible within that sound-world."

All the same, for much of this disc I couldnít help wishing he had recorded just one of the sets, but twice over, once on this piano and once one modern one. Otherwise, when in the G flat Impromptu the pervasive triplets are just that little bit too loud, almost clattery, the melodic line not quite standing out enough, when the repeated chords in the middle section of no.4 of D.899 are too heavily present and, again, the melodic line is not quite free over them, when the repeated-note second theme of D.935/1 sounds lumpy, lacking in the evanescent poetry it can have, the performer seemingly hardly daring to touch the keys, in the face of all this and much more, how can I know if this is what happens when you play Schubert on an 1832 Clementi square piano, or if it what happens when Peter Katin plays Schubert on any piano?

However, I found that the performance of the B flat Impromptu, the variations on the "Rosamunde" theme, explained most of my queries. It is evident already in the theme that the melody is now singing out over a murmuring accompaniment; better still the 16th-notes in Variation 1 are not pervasive and clattery while the melodic line sings as it should. The potentially thick chords in Variation III are not clumpy as they were in D.899/4. Furthermore, Katin has the right Schubertian lilt all through the piece, he keeps a reasonably consistent tempo through all the variations (nobody expects the pianist to make no change of tempo, even if none is marked, but we often hear very disruptive changes and Katin seems to me just right in all the variations). This is a performance I will gladly hear again, not because itís played on an 1832 Clementi square piano but because itís played very beautifully.

So it would seem that the piano is capable of all the Schubertian poetry we would expect, but that, for some reason, Katin has decided to give it to us only in this one piece. For the rest, it is highly articulate, intelligent, observant (but must the first forte outburst in D.899/1 be so jabbingly staccato when Schubert hasnít indicated anything at all over the notes?) and musical playing, but a bit dry, and the evidence seems to be that this is Katinís doing not the pianoís.

We know what these old pianos were like, but we donít know exactly how they were played; but I suppose performers ranged between good, bad and indifferent more or less as they do now. So, if the historical exercise appeals to you of hearing this music as it may have sounded four years after Schubertís death on a typical domestic piano of a country in which Schubert never set foot (his own Viennese pianos were quite different), then here you are.

Christopher Howell

see also review by Antony Hodgson

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