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Antoni KĄTSKI (1816-1899)
Piano Sonata No.1 in F major Op.156 (1852) [30:46]
Piano Sonata No.2 in F minor Op.310 (1881) [27:54]
Anna Parkita (piano)
rec. 2019, Concert Hall of the complex of Ludomir Różycki Music Schools in Kielce, Poland DUX 1682 [58:42]
The name Antoni Kątski meant nothing to me at all; an internet search didn't help – it kept correcting me by producing results for Anton de Kontski, a name I knew. I admit to being a little slow to realise they were one and the same, Kontski being a Germanic version of his name. He was born in Kraków and was one of five children, all musical; his sister was a singer and his three brothers were a violinist and pianists respectively. It is noted here that he studied with Ludwig van Beethoven no less as well as John Field and Simon Sechter, teacher of Adolf von Henselt and Sigismund Thalberg amongst others. An inveterate traveller Kątski, like many performers of his time toured the United States though I doubt there were many who also visited New Zealand, China and Japan. His output was prodigious with more than 400 opuses, the majority of which are piano works and a scan through what is known of his catalogue reveals many Variations, Fantaisies, Valses, Nocturnes and Caprices; looking through his Grande Fantaisie sur “Lucia di Lammermoor” op.56 for instance one can see that he could spin fistfuls of notes with the best of them – perhaps some of his opera fantaisies will be taken up by some enterprising virtuoso.
His two Sonatas are different fare though they contain their fair share of technical challenges. In reviews of the only other recordings of his music that I am aware of (on Acte
Prealable unsurprisingly AP0388 and AP0424) it is suggested that he was at his best working on other composers' material but neither of these two works are lacking in ideas or character. The first Sonata opens with an angular 4 note motif that is heard throughout the movement and Kątski even sets this in counterpoint to the more lyrical second theme. These two motifs are intertwined throughout the movement with plenty of virtuosic figuration in an exciting blend of Hummel and Chopin and Mendelssohn. The Minuetto is a bright, energetic dance contrasting scale passages with delicate off beat chords and with more than hint of humour in its pages. The slow movement begins as a far gentler minuet but the central section reaches dramatic heights and introduces a variation of the Sonata's opening theme. The finale has plenty of jolly humour as well, its themes bouncing along in something of a fugue like manner with lots of contrapuntal writing. Again a rigorous technique is required for its many virtuoso challenges – I commend Anna Parkita for the stamina and iron control required to play this movement while remaining light enough to bring out its bubbling high spirits.
The second Sonata did not appear until some thirty years later. The first movement opens with a declamatory theme that dominates the writing and it soon becomes clear that this short movement is in the form of variations of this opening theme. Its more lyrical manifestation in the major key ends the movement and leading straight into the scherzo. For me the rather twee melody of the trio section here sits rather oddly with the vital energy of its scherzo book-ends though not enough to spoil enjoyment of the piece as a whole. The song without words that is the third movement sets a melody against a back drop of triplet repeated chords, almost Mendelssohn-like if it were not for the density of the writing. Grand climaxes are reached and I feel that Kątski treats his modest melody as he would in one of his earlier opera fantasies. If this movement had turned up in an old Victorian piano album I would not have been surprised. The Sonata's key, F minor, already puts one in mind of more famous examples and the opening of the finale only reinforces this thought with its strong echoes of Beethoven's Appassionata – the theme is set alongside running semiquavers and it even has the same dotted-rhythm features. This extended movement, very nearly as long as the other three movements put together, develops differently and though echoes of Beethoven are never too far away there is plenty here to enjoy on its own terms.
Anna Parkita was born in Kielce in south-central Poland and now teaches there at the Music institute of the Jan Kochanowski University. Her dissertation was on the piano music of Antoni Kątski and in addition to this album she has recorded music for a short film entitled Antoni Kątski – a musical visiting card and prepared some of his music for publication. It is clear she is passionate about this music and has the requisite skills to present it in its best light. My only minor caveat being that at just shy of an hour's recording a little more Kątski could have been included and would have been welcome as I have very much enjoyed discovering these works through Parkita's fine playing.