Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Concerto no. 1 in G minor op.25 [21:08]
Piano Concerto no. 2 in D minor op.40 [24:31]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor op.16 [29:56]
Peter Katin (piano)
London Symphony/Anthony Collins (Mendelssohn), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Colin Davis (Grieg)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 9-10 February 1956 (Mendelssohn), 2 October 1959 (Grieg). ADD

I had expected Katin to be agile, nimble and clear-headed in Mendelssohn, but he is more. In the G minor he is energetic and passionate, not in a way that tries to turn it into a Rachmaninov concerto but in a way that does not let us forget Mendelssohn can be a strong, involving composer, not merely a decorative one. In the D minor he finds a good deal of gentle poetry. Conventional wisdom has it that this is a less inspired work. I was never convinced of this and I am now still less so.
The orchestral playing is spirited and has much heartfelt warmth in the lyrical melodies. It is, however, surprisingly ragged. In the D minor, especially, there’s hardly a pick-up that isn’t bedevilled by latecomers and this isn’t going to improve on repetition. Even the second bar of this concerto finds one of the players slightly out of step. A pity.
When reviewing the Pristine transfer of Katin and Boult’s performance of the Tchaikovsky Concert Fantasy I queried whether the sound had been too much filtered. A free download of the same performance available on the Internet offered more background noise but more bloom to the piano sound. I find the sound slightly dull and airless here, too. In this case I’ve no other transfer for a comparison so can’t exclude the possibility that the original sound just was like that. It is in any case good for its age.
There’s more treble on the piano in the Grieg Concerto. Here I found Katin absolutely ideal. He never indulges the music, but he always plays with feeling, flexibility and a natural sense of flow. I don’t think I’ve heard a better performance and I’m not surprised to find that in the 1960s the EMG Art of Record Buying made this their top recommendation, above the celebrated Solomon and Curzon recordings, as well as several others.
There’s no problem about orchestral precision with the young Colin Davis conducting, but he does try too hard at times. Hear his mannered, segmented chopping-up of the lyrical second theme of the finale. Did he feel no sense of shame when Katin entered and played it so limpidly and naturally? Fortunately this is Davis’s worst moment. But go to Galliera, for Lipatti, or Menges, for Solomon, at the beginning of the slow movement to realise that this concerto actually works best with an “unoriginal” conductor who just gets on with the job.
As with Katin’s Decca recording of the Tchaikovsky First Concerto, I have to note the existence of a stereo recording made by Katin about a decade later with the LPO under John Pritchard. This was issued on Classics for Pleasure but does not appear to have been reissued. I haven’t heard it so I cannot say which of the two represents Katin’s interpretation at its finest. He does not seem to have recorded the Mendelssohn concertos again.
Collectors of vintage performances from the early LP era will not be troubled by slight reservations of the sound, which is good for its age. My queries over aspects of the orchestral contribution will probably not worry them unduly either. General collectors of fine pianism will be lucky to find these three concertos more sympathetically played.
This completes Pristine Audio’s transfers of Katin’s concerto recordings for Decca. He subsequently made a few for Everest which may be out of copyright already or shortly will be. My introduction to the Schumann Concerto and Franck Symphonic Variations was Katin’s coupling of the two, conducted by Eugene Goossens. Maybe this is on the way?
Christopher Howell
In the Grieg, Katin always plays with feeling, flexibility and a natural sense of flow. You will be lucky to find these three concertos more sympathetically played.