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William Kapell (piano)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Piano Concerto no.2 in B flat, op.19 [27:24] (1)
Franz SCHUBERT (1791-1828)

Waltz in B, D.145/2 [00:55], Waltz in b, D.145/6 [01:07], Waltz in E, D.365/26 [00:38], Waltz in F, D.365/32 [01:01], German Dance in B flat, D.783/6 [00:35], German Dance in B flat, D.783/7 [00:44], Waltz in F, D.365/34 [00:47], Ländler in D, D.734/1 [00:59] (2)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1874-1942)

Cello Sonata in G minor, op.19 [31:08] (3)
William Kapell (piano)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Golschmann (1), Edmund Kurtz (cello) (3)
Recorded 24th June 1946 in Carnegie Hall, NY (1), 3rd July 1952 at the RCA Studios, Hollywood (2), 23rd-24th April 1947 in RCA Studio no.2, NY (3)
CD transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS 8.110767 [65:17]

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A somewhat mixed programme, but alas, the tragically short career of William Kapell (1922-1953) – he was killed in an air crash at the age of 31 – just didn’t give him time to record enough material for it to be grouped neatly and thematically in a series of CDs.

And yet there is homogeneity of a sort, for while the previous volume dedicated to Kapell by Naxos, with works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Khachaturian, concentrated on the technical whiz-kid, here the emphasis is on the musician. After Vladimir Golschmann’s adequately lively and neatly turned but not particularly characterful introduction, we are struck by the light and shade that enters the Beethoven performance as Kapell takes over, by the fluid Mozartian grace and the clarity without brittleness of the fingerwork. Just occasionally Kapell veers towards something more obviously virtuosic, and the cadenza is terrific, but this is in general a very idiomatic, far from exhibitionist performance. Golschmann provides, at least, a punctual framework for it all. The slow movement is strongly felt, grave yet mobile, but in the finale the young man does sow his wild oats a little, with a tempo that is a shade too fast to feel comfortable, at any rate to my ears. Still, for an upfront but not over-the-top performance, this is well worth knowing, and it sounds surprisingly good.

In the tiny Schubert pieces Kapell catches exactly the poetic mood of each without attempting to interpolate his own personality – just sheer good musicianship. I would not go so far as to say that he reveals the spiritual dimensions of a Lipatti – were it not for their untimely deaths no one would think of comparing the two – but there was clearly far more to Kapell than a mere whiz-kid.

In the Rachmaninov Edmund Kurtz offers warm tone and generous musicianship rather than a dominating personality. Mindful of this, perhaps, as well as of the number of notes in the piano part, the engineers placed him well forward, reckoning without Kapell who proves a true chamber musician, well able to lighten his sonority to match that of the soloist. The trouble is that as a result of the balance he is made to sound too retiring (I think in reality he had it about right) and the music assumes a gentle, flowing quality suggestive of Fauré or even Delius. A pity, since I believe there was really more bite to it than we hear. Even so, it is a valuable demonstration of a further side of Kapell’s musicianship.

It looks as though Kapell’s recordings have to be taken as evidence of what might have been rather than as already complete statements. But what might have been was so full of promise that those interested in the history of piano-playing in the 20th Century should definitely not regret paying the modest Naxos price to hear it.

Christopher Howell

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