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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 19A (1793-5) [27'24].
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1791-1828)

Waltzes (1815-21)b – B, D145 No. 2 [0'55]; B minor, D145 No. 6 [1'07]; E, D365 No. 26 [0'38]; F, D365 No. 32 [1'01]; F, D365 No. 34 [0'47]. German Dances (1823/4)b – B flat, D783 No. 6 [0'44]; B flat, D783 No. 7 [0'44]. Ländler in D, D734 No. 1 (c1822) [0'59].
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1874-1942)

Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19c (1901) [31'08].
William Kapell (piano); cEfrem Kurtz (cello); aNBC Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Golschmann.
From RCA Victor originals. Rec. aCarnegie Hall, New York City on June 26th, 1946, bRCA Studios, Hollywood on July 3rd, 1952, RCA Studio No. 2, New York City, on April 23rd and 24th, 1947. ADD
NAXOS GREAT PIANISTS 8.110767 [65'17]

Kapell was being groomed for a career as a sonata partner - on disc at least. He accompanied Heifetz, for instance, in Brahms’ Op.108 sonata (also on Naxos) and proved an adept foil for the picky violinist. It’s galling, yet fruitless now to consider how much more of the sonata repertoire he might have committed to disc had his tragic death not intervened. Plans were certainly well advanced for more.

This makes the existence of the Rachmaninov sonata with Edmund Kurtz all the more precious an artefact. This recording superseded the earlier Columbia made by Marcel Hubert and Shura Cherkassky (an unlikely pairing on the face of it) and had Feuermann still been alive in 1947 it would have been, despite Kurtz’s Russian birth, natural territory for him. The fact was that Feuermann wasn’t alive and it was Kurtz, now most famous for the Toscanini-led Dvorak concerto performance that has circulated over the years, not least on Naxos, who was invited to record it. Kurtz, who died as recently as 2004, studied with Klengel and Alexanian, was profoundly influenced by Casals, and had a piano trio with the Spivakovsky brothers. He played in the Prague German Opera under Szell and had been recording since his 1927 German Polydors. Milhaud dedicated his second Cello Concerto to Kurtz.

I’ve concentrated more on the cellist because he’s much the less well known of the two. The 1947 RCA Victor, which has been transferred from a set of 45s, was recorded at a rather low level and definition was only so-so; there’s a rather cloudy, occluded sound. Kurtz proves not to be in the tensile Feuermann mould at all – more pliant, possibly more Germanic in tone production. He can exude colour in the earthier moments of the Allegro scherzando but takes care to ensure a flowing tempo in the slow movement. It’s an eloquent though occasionally reticent reading.

Kapell plays with commendable refinement throughout, qualities he had shown the previous year in his gimmick-free recording of the B flat Beethoven Concerto. He was teamed with Golschmann, an occasionally unnervingly flaccid conductor, but one who here is on decent rhythmic form. The RCA sound is up-front and personal but it catches Kapell’s crisp, clear runs and precise articulation. The first movement cadenza is well executed and the slow movement is fluency itself, very easygoing but the finale finds Kapell leaning to the scherzando side of the Allegro. In all it’s a warm hearted and agile traversal. We also have the bonus of the Schubert collection, rather dry sounding but resounding to the wit of his Waltz in B minor and the pocket drama of the German Dance in B flat. That he could cultivate warmth even in these smaller works can immediately be heard in the B flat German Dance.

The transfers have utilised a variety of source material and the results are attractive, given some of the inherent problems of the original recordings. Kapell is the focus obviously but Kurtz’s Rachmaninov makes for instructive listening as well and is not to be neglected.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Chris Howell and Colin Clarke

 

 



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