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The Art of Julius Katchen Volume 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1806)
* Choral Fantasia, Op. 80 (1807)
Julius Katchen (piano)
London Symphony Chorus*; London Symphony Orchestra/Piero Gamba
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major, K415 (1782)
Julius Katchen (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Peter Maag
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 (1785)
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 (1786)
Piano Sonata in A major, K331
Julius Katchen (piano)
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/Karl Munchinger
Recorded October 1954 (Mozart K331); August 1955 (Mozart K415), Decca Studio West Hampstead; June 1963 (Beethoven Opus 58), January 1965 (Beethoven Op. 80), Walthamstow Assembly Hall London); September 1966 (Mozart K466; K503), Schloss Ludwigsburg, Stuttgart
DECCA 460 825-2 [2CDs: 74.10 + 77.32]

 

This Decca 2CD set of Beethoven and Mozart recordings, issued along with a companion box that contains the other four Beethoven piano concertos (240 822-2), makes an apt memorial tribute to a pianist who stands as one of the ‘Great Pianists of the Century’. Katchen quite properly features in the distinguished series of recordings marketed by Universal under that title. His achievement might have been greater still but for the cancer claimed him in 1969 at the tragically early age of forty-two.

To begin with Beethoven: Katchen’s performances of this repertoire remain among the most distinguished ever recorded, and his command of the dexterity required is admirable. His view of the Fourth Concerto is less poetic than some (Alfred Brendel with Rattle (DG) or with Haitink (Philips), for example) but this is valid enough in its way. The articulation of detail, as in the rhythmically insistent main theme of the finale, is most effective.

Likewise the Fantasia for piano, chorus and orchestra is given a rhythmically urgent interpretation, the tone set, as ever with this piece, by the questing piano solo with which it opens. Thereafter the combinations with orchestra and, eventually, chorus, are well handled and balanced by the conductor, Piero Gamba, with whom Katchen worked regularly.

The Mozart offerings are more mixed than the Beethoven. For example, the string sound in the C major Concerto, K415, puts it in the ‘historical class’ rather than in competition with more recent recordings. In fact this was always so, such as when previously issued in LP format on Decca’s Eclipse label. The performance, however, is strong and idiomatic, since Mozart’s C major ceremonial manner suits Katchen well. The same might be said also of the great C major Concerto, K503, which was recorded during the mid-sixties with Karl Munchinger and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. The benefit of a fuller recorded sound is felt here, though if there is a caveat it is that the slow movement might have been more poetic and lyrical.

The D minor Concerto, K466, finds Katchen achieving a real sense of dramatic impetus, well supported by conductor and orchestra. This work was a favourite of Beethoven, who performed it and wrote cadenzas for it which have become the norm. There is abundant vitality and intensity about this performance which make it a compelling experience for the listener.

To complete this interesting collection there is the A major Sonata Mozart composed during his trip to Paris 1778. Katchen recorded this in London in 1954, and while the sound does show its age the new transfer has probably added a dimension that brings extra value. Without comparing it to the original it is impossible to be sure, of course, but the sound is truthful and accurate, while background noise is kept to a minimum. As to the performance, there is that crisp articulation and poised shaping of rhythm that are the hallmarks of this great pianist’s playing.

Terry Barfoot

 



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