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The Art of Julius Katchen (1926 - 1969), Volume 4
Franz LISZT (1811 - 1886)

Piano Concerto #1 in Eb, S.124 (1849) [18.49]
Piano Concerto #2 in A, S.125 (1839) [19.48]
Mephisto Waltz #1 S.599 (1861) [9.44]
Harmonies Poétiques et Réligieuses, #7: Funérailles S.13 (1834) [11.16]
Hungarian Rhapsody #12, S.244 (1885) [8.49]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Ataúlfo Argenta
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)

Piano Concerto in a, Op 16 (1868) [27.50]
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/István Kertész
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 - 1881)

Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [29.57]
Mily Balakirev (1837 - 1910)

Islamey (1869) [7.56]
Julius Katchen, piano
Various recordings locations and dates ADD
Notes in English, Français, and Deutsch. Photo of the artist.
DOUBLE DECCA 460 831-2 [2CDs: 134.41]


Comparison Recordings:
Liszt Concerti: Farnadi, Scherchen, VSOO Westminster LP WL 5168
Liszt Concerti: Davis, Downes RPO Decca 421 629-2
Liszt Funerailles: Horowitz RCA
Grieg Concerto: Rubenstein, Previn, LSO LD
Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: Richter Philips
Balakirev Islamey: Vladimir Feltsman CBS LP

My admiration for Katchen has been built upon his Brahms cycle and romantic concerto recordings, one of which, the Tchaikovsky Concerto #1 with Pierino Gamba, always one of my favourites, is regrettably not included here. This anthology surely demonstrates Katchen’s ability to play about anything he chooses, but with varying levels of success.

In the Liszt Concerti, the sound is so clear that when the triangle sounded my dog ran over to bark at the telephone. The brass is perhaps a little too sharp so I would turn down the gain on the brass section highlight microphone and while I’m at it turn up the gain on the cymbals mic, but quibbling aside these are exceptional recordings, among the very finest these works have received, played as well but sounding better than the comparison recordings noted above.

The Grieg Concerto is as distinguished as the Liszt, a dramatic, nay bravura, virtuoso performance. There is brashness here and there, and the sound is equally brilliant, in fact one of the best sounding CDs I’ve ever heard, and one of the most aggressive performances of any concerto.

Some might think me unfair to compare Katchen with the Richter, whose Pictures is one of the best recordings of anything ever done. But Katchen is well within comparison range. He doesn’t get quite so many notes right but shows some interesting tricks Richter didn’t think of. The sound is unfortunately somewhat astringent, but bearable, for an altogether worthwhile musical experience.

The orchestra must have kept him honest during the Liszt Concertos because in the solo Liszt pieces we see he doesn’t respect this music. These are glib, lurching, performances by someone who only wants to throw out all the notes and get to the end and doesn’t care how he does it. Sometimes he sounds like he’s trying to beat the piano’s repeat mechanism. Neither does he respect the Balakirev, but what’s there to respect? I used to have the legendary Simon Barere recording of this music, but gave it away some time ago, as I never wanted to listen to it again. This hash, this frantic, clangorous pileup of notes is hardly pleasant. I think you’ll not listen to these tracks again after your first curious run-through.

Paul Shoemaker



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