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Jonathan Woolf
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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 (1841-45) [31:10]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16 (1868) [30:07]
Mindru Katz (piano)
Israel Broadcast Authority Orchestra/Mendi Rodan (Schumann)
Israel Broadcast Authority Orchestra/Sergiu Comissiona (Grieg)
rec. 1962 (Grieg) and 1963 (Schumann), Jerusalem
CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD171 [61:19]

Despite the prestigious position he had carved out for himself in England, not to mention the recordings he made with Boult and Barbirolli, Mindru Katz moved definitively to Israel where he was to spend the remainder of his tragically short life. He died at the age of 52 during a recital in Istanbul. I’ve written extensively on Katz during the course of my reviews of previous releases in this increasingly eventful series, many of which tapes have been provided by the pianist’s widow. In that respect this latest disc is no different; Zoara Katz has once again released the tapes for commercial production via Cembal d’Amour.
Both concerto performances come from live performances given with the Israel Broadcast Authority Orchestra. The Schumann is directed by Mendi Rodan in 1963 and the Grieg by Sergiu Comissiona the previous year. I’m not sure what state the tapes were in before they reached Cembal d’Amour’s Mordecai Shehori but they don’t sound at all bad. Certainly there are places, rather more in the Schumann, where the piano spectrum is set rather back in the balance, or rather further back than would be ideal, but there are no obvious glitches or any degradation that one can hear. This is either a tribute to their state of preservation or to Shehori’s restoration, or perhaps to both.
Katz was a very natural sounding musician. He never drew attention to himself, and never drew the ear away from the musical argument. He certainly did not lack for bravura in his playing, as a listen to his Khachaturian will attest, but he didn’t lack for depth of utterance either, as one can hear in his Bach recordings. In the central concerto repertoire he proves a laudable exponent. His Grieg is dispatched with ardour and control, his rubati being pronounced without becoming too stretched, and his little caesuri hinting at the playfulness embedded in the music. The central movement is quite slow, but not solemn, warmly textured too, whilst the finale is strongly characterised. There is one very brief moment of smudged passagework, and the piano sounds a tiny bit clangy. Otherwise, even though there are some passages where the orchestra sounds a bit blunt, this is a fine souvenir of Katz caught on the wing. So too is the Schumann, which receives a stylish and stylistically apt reading. He takes the slow movement at a gracious tempo, not unlike that of, say, Myra Hess, and doesn’t press on too hotly in the finale. His reading as a whole is sympathetically scaled, and abjures obvious extroversion.
Altogether then this is another worthy addition to the discography of a musician too easily overlooked during his lifetime. It’s good that amends of a sort can be made in releases such as this.
Jonathan Woolf    

Masterwork Index: Grieg concerto ~~ Schumann concerto