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William Kapell Rediscovered – The Australian Broadcasts
CD 1
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [38:39]¹
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suite in A minor BWV 818 [8:07]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [30:34]
CD 2
God Save The Queen [0:50]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in B flat K.570 (1789) [16:22]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Suite bergamasque (1890 rev. 1905) [15:36]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Barcarolle Op.60 [8:35]
Nocturne in E flat Op.55 No.2 [5:01]
Scherzo No.1 Op.20 in B minor (1831) [8:45]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1939-42) [17:33]
William Kapell (piano)
Victorian Symphony Orchestra/Sir Bernard Heinze¹
rec. radio broadcasts, Melbourne Town Hall, July and October 1953
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876685602 [77:30 + 73:12]


Experience Classicsonline

The caveat that must start this review – intended for the unwary; aficionados will know what to expect – concerns the sound quality of these broadcasts. It varies from acceptable to torridly difficult. Considerable patience will need to be extended by even the more catholic-minded of listeners, as these were privately recorded tapes made during Kapell’s last tour, made in fact shortly before his death on his way home from Australia.  There has been some patching as well – unhappily towards the very end of a blistering Mussorgsky, in the Bach and also in the Rachmaninov.

Given this inevitable warning the most important other observation is to note that there are four pieces new to Kapell’s discography. RCA rather cheekily claims that his brief run-through of God Save the Queen counts as a fifth but I think wiser counsel must prevail on that point. The four are the Debussy Suite bergamasque, Chopin’s Barcarolle and B minor Scherzo and the Prokofiev. They’re four important additions however one views the matter.

The performances themselves accord strongly with what one might have predicted. His Rachmaninov with a very onside Heinze and the Victorian Symphony is a tour de force. True the sound is splintery and poor; I can’t guarantee you will wish to submit to its blandishments too often – but what playing! Kapell’s mighty octaves are simply one in an arsenal of powerhouse pianistic brilliances. His control is deeply impressive and on this form one regrets that Heinze wasn’t more active in the recording studio. The Bach is obviously a more sober and modest index of his polyphonic eloquence and it is astutely contoured and textured. The Mussorgsky can be blistering, even unsubtle in places – Gnomus and the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks in particular – but it’s sculpted with huge commitment and dynamism; gaunt, hectic, visceral. Whether because of the recording or Kapell’s playing there’s a lot what one might be tempted to call ‘banging’ and forcing through the tone – but the Great Gate was shaping up to be a monumental conclusion before the splice occurs.

Mozart’s B flat sonata receives a thoroughly sensitive and fluent reading; no outré gestures impede its progress. Gestures remain appropriately sized and finger work is brilliantly accomplished. Similar effulgence courses through the Debussy – an especially fortunate survival this because it so richly captures all the very best of his prismic qualities and eloquence in a work he did not record commercially. The Chopin trio is equally on an exalted level. The Nocturne is shaped with all its contours and colours undiminished by the poor quality recording and there is devilish fire and pugnacity in the Scherzo with its exquisitely controlled and poetically lavished central section. More of the same in the Prokofiev – a reading of the utmost command and conviction.

Given the sonic limitations this is very much a specialist acquisition but it does preserve some monumentally vivid examples of combustible pianism from one of the greatest talents of his generation.

Jonathan Woolf



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