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Louis Kentner (piano) Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Piano Sonata in B flat minor (1900-05) [24:08]
Rêverie (c. 1900) [4.50]
Mazurka No. 6 in A flat major (1902) [4.39]
Islamey (Oriental Fantasy) (1869 rev 1902) [9:05] Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Piano Sonata in B minor S178 (1852-53) [27.57] Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Études, Op. 11 no. 1: Berceuse Andantino (pub 1900-05) [4.27]
12 Études d'exécution transcendante, Op. 11 (pub 1900-05) (67.52)
rec. Studio 3, Abbey Road, London, 1939-1949 APR 6020 [70:41 + 72:19]
This twofer charts a decade’s worth of recordings made by the Hungarian-born Louis Kentner. He was at his considerable peak at this time and all the works were recorded for British Columbia at Studio 3 at Abbey Road: the Lyapunov sessions were supervised by the supremo tyrant, Walter Legge.
The first disc contains his pioneering recording of Balakirev’s Piano Sonata in B flat minor, a performance of dexterous colour, deft marshalling of fugal material and limpid treble tracery. Kentner has few equals in his cultivation of unforced lyricism in this repertoire and in the thoughtful exploration of the Russian melancholy encoded in the slow movement that follows the Mazurka, rather casually yoked into the structure: this Mazurka was actually composed five years before the rest of the sonata. The finale is notable for its vivid excitement as well as this splendidly calibrated rubati. The same composer’s Rêverie is refined and full of luminous delicacy whilst that piledriver Islamey, which requires an outsize exponent such as Barere for a full survey of its more incendiary qualities, nevertheless receives a reading of vivid, if not incandescent qualities. The high take numbers, as in the Liszt Sonata that he recorded in 1948 and which closes the first disc, tell their own story of a striving for perfection before the days of cut-and-splice.
Controlled but not explosive, leonine but not hyper-virtuosically fast like Horowitz, the Liszt is a splendid example of Kentner’s art. It was preceded by only a few recordings of the sonata: Cortot, Horowitz, Cor de Groot and György Sandor. Though Kentner originally recorded it in 1948 before Sandor, he went back to basics and re-recorded the whole work, which didn’t appear in public until 1951. This is its first CD restoration. Lyapunov’s Transcendental Études is still a desperately rare piece to find in the catalogue, even today. For 1949 it must have seemed like one of those society editions or ones underwritten and sponsored by the Maharajah of Mysore – though in fact neither is true. This set was originally reissued (for the first time) in 2002 by APR but its reappearance here, in the context of some of Kentner’s very greatest recordings, is no less welcome. Kentner’s sense of character study building is exemplary, whether it’s in the Lisztian finger exercising of the second étude, the noble bell rings of the exultant third étude, the truly poetic traversal of the fifth étude, sub-titled Nuit d’été, or the Aeolian harp evocations of étude nine. Rather like Islamey there’s virtuosity and folkloric vigour in étude ten, another Liszt-evoking étude 11 and then the final étude itself, one in memory of Liszt, the man whose musicianship and compositions had so informed Lyapunov’s own work. An earlier 1939 recording of just the first étude, the Berceuse, is also usefully included as an aperitif for the whole 1949 reading.
The Balakirev was reissued on Naxos 8.111223 coupled with a swathe of Kentner’s Liszt. This APR is much the better transfer – much less bedeviled by a stubborn echo. Indeed, the transfers throughout are fine and so are the most helpful notes.