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Louis Kentner (piano)
William WALTON (1902-1983)
(1922) – Valse transc. Louis Kentner [3:25]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Csárdás macabre S224/R46 [6:57]
Venezia e Napoli – 1. Gondoliera III. Tarantella S162/R10c (1840) [15:00]
En Rêve (Nocturne) S207/R87 [2:22]
Dante Sonata (Après une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata) (1856) orch. Constant Lambert [16:53] *
Mili BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Sonata in B minor (1905) [24:02]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Bolero in C major Op.19 (1833) [8:18]
Louis Kentner (piano)
Sadler’s Wells Orchestra/Constant Lambert *
rec. 1938-51
NAXOS 8.111223 [76:59] 


Collectors will warmly welcome this slice of Kentner’s discography. It brings to wider notice his majestic, if occasionally idiosyncratic Liszt and a pioneering and terrific Balakirev Sonata, topped and tailed by Kentner’s own naughty Walton arrangement and a vital Chopin Bolero. The recordings range between 1938 and 1951. 

Though he may best and most luminously be remembered for his staggering recording of Lyapunov’s Transcendental Studies (on APR) there was far more to him on disc than that. These recordings go a considerable distance in showing us just how and why he was so widely admired. 

The Csárdás macabre is a riotous amalgam of Kentner’s own instinctive textual emendations and a fulsome command of the authentic Lisztian tradition, served up with suitably malign command. The final paragraphs are an exercise in hypnotically accomplished control. Venezia e Napoli, of which we have the Gondoliera and Tarantella, is similarly engaged and inspired. The rubati Kentner employs are frequently dramatic and yet, perhaps paradoxically, for all their refusal to countenance metrical strictures, they work within the music to illuminate it, rather than sounding crass and indulgently applied on it. The Tarantella in particular is a rich, fabulous example of Kentner’s gifts a Liszt player. His more subtle and affecting side can be gauged from the brief En rêve, so deftly coloured and nourished. 

The Balakirev sonata pays testament to his enquiring mind to the repertoire and the colouristic means at his disposal the better to explore such works. The shifting subtlety of the left hand voicings in the opening Andantino inflects the music with motion and eloquence. Similarly the more raucous rhythmic profile of the ensuing Mazurka show just how aptly Kentner characterises every phrase, every quixotic shift and mood.  Such matters resurface in the Bolero which one might imagine would be meat and drink to Kentner’s active control of dance rhythms – and so it proves. He adds a magician’s control of rubati once again to maximal effect. This is an aspect of Kentner’s art confirmed by his own Walton movement, which is presented with sly wit. 

One of the odder works in his discography was the 1940 collaboration with Constant Lambert in the latter’s orchestration of Liszt’s Dante Sonata or more properly Après une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata. Lambert orchestrated it for a Sadler’s Wells-Frederick Ashton choreography. It sounds crazily convincing and Kentner shows no signs of inhibition whatsoever.

And now for the bad news. The transfers are credited to producers and audio restoration engineers Marina and Victor Ledin and to restoration mastering engineer Amthony Casuccio. Whoever has done what they are dreadfully dull, opaque and disappointing. Highs have been ruthlessly disposed of and what remains is treble starved and soupy. There’s no audible difference between 1938 and 1951 sides, such has been the restoration aesthetic. You will need a huge treble boost even to begin to approach the original sound; if you don’t have a graphic equalizer or any other means to boost treble you will be stuck. This murky kind of thing simply won’t do. 

So - superb performances, a fascinating release, but very poor transfers.

Jonathan Woolf



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