Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
The Complete Preludes:-
No.1 in C sharp minor (The Bells of Moscow), Op. 3/2 [4:34]
Preludes (10) for piano, Op. 23 [35:38]
Preludes (13) for piano, Op. 32 [39:26]
Peter Katin (piano)
rec. 1971, Springhead School, Northfleet, Kent. ADD
SOMMCD 0110 [79:10]

Somm have newly re-mastered and re-released Peter Katin’s complete Rachmaninov Preludes which he recorded for Unicorn in 1971 (released in 1972). The Preludes re-appeared briefly on Olympia OCD110 across 2 discs in 1987 and seven years later on one disc on Pickwick IMP Classics PCD 2052. This disc lineage is stated with admirable candour on the back of the case insert.

Before this he had recorded for Decca in stereo the first two Rachmaninov concertos: LPO/Boult in February 1958, Kingsway Hall, London (first issued as Decca SXL 2034 in May 1959) and New Symphony Orchestra of London/Colin Davis in May a year later (first issued as Richmond S29059 in December 1959). You can hear these on Pristine with the famous Litolff scherzo from Richmond S29061 on PASC273. The two concertos had several outings on Decca LPs, latterly together on Decca SPA 169. The Fourth seems not to have been favoured by Katin – at least not in the recording studio; likewise the Third with which in 1953 he shift-changed his career from early classical to epic-romantic.

Katin’s preludes begin commandingly well with the C sharp minor in which ‘breath control’, pacing and dynamics all conspire to produce a simply magnificent result. The silences between notes are weighted to perfection; the rhetoric well judged. The mot juste is found again in No. 3 in D minor and in the lull-lapping of its Op. 23 successor. The drama and melt of the G minor (No. 5) is also superbly orated and swooned. The final prelude in Op. 23 is self-effacing and elusive – a confident down-beat. The halting, dancing, rushing, stormy No. 4 in E minor is splendidly mercurial and the virtuosic No. 8 in A minor seems more than ever to be struck through with mirror-distorted echoes of Beethoven’s ‘fate’ motif. No. 10 in B minor has the placid gravity of the famous C sharp minor. The F sharp minor comes across as rather disjointed but this is very much the exception. Katin wonderfully projects the symphonic ascent and grandeur of this music and leaves us with this same impression with the final D flat major. Such a pity he never recorded the Etudes-Tableaux or the Medtner Ballades. The 1970s analogue recording is in good heart. One strange phenomenon: with the final echo of the final Prelude a quiet quick-tempo ticking appears in the right-hand channel. It does not touch any of the music but it does discreetly invade the listener’s silence.

The booklet for this disc celebrating Katin’s eightieth birthday offers the pianist’s original liner notes, a foreword by Christopher Morley and a candid interview with Katin conducted by Colin Anderson.

Rob Barnett

The silences between notes are weighted to perfection; the rhetoric extremely well judged.