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Julius Katchen (piano)
Piano Recitals 1946-1965
MELOCLASSIC MC1061 [71 + 75]

Katchen died at 42 of cancer, one of a number of American pianistic losses. His Decca legacy has fortunately been augmented by live recitals and this latest example charts the period 1946-65 and augments a previous Melo Classic’s disc of Katchen’s German Radio Recordings of 1960-1962. The recitals here were given in Paris, Hamburg, Prades, Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg, from the earliest to the most recent, and expand known reportorial strengths.

He plays two Beethoven sonatas. He very clearly demarcates the expressive scheme of Op.26 with a very fast Scherzo and Allegro finale balancing the funeral march and opening movement. Far from unbalancing the sonata, these decisions tend to intensify the music’s vitality and energy, its sense of release. The opening movement of Op.109 is notably well judged and one notes the natural fluidity and creativity of his playing of the finale, as well as the energy and propulsive drive of the central movement. His Schubert is slightly capricious in places, but the slow movement is focused, tonally admirable, thoroughly convincing and is shorn of all and any artifice; inward playing of great poise. In Hamburg in 1951 he played Gershwin’s Three Preludes with a finely honed sense of rubato and a naturally stylistic insouciance. The first disc ends with the earliest recordings, made in Paris, where he based himself and was to die: a richly expressive but unglutinous Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, a Mozart Allegro (from K545) and the Chopin Polonaise in A flat major.

His Bach Parita No.2 has an especially fine Rondeau with lovely phrasal placing. And then there is his Schumann Études Symphoniques. He was a first-class Schumann player and as his commercial discography shows, the Concerto and Carnaval and the Fantasie - not forgetting the Arabesque – reflect his seriousness of purpose allied to a rich sense of characterisation. That’s very much the case in Études Symphoniques where he locates the essence of each etude with great perception. With a 1965 Chopin Ballade No.3 and two excellent Mendelssohn pieces, played with candour but also technical precision and flair, he brings the 1951 Hamburg recital to a triumphant close.

The booklet notes enhance the fine transfers. These succinct but communicative series of recitals show Katchen at his considerable best.

Jonathan Woolf

CD 1
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 12 in A-flat Major, Op 26
rec. 27 May 1964 ˇ Stuttgart ˇ Villa K ˇ SDR ˇ Radio Studio Recording
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D 960
rec. 6 August 1960 ∙ Prades ∙ Église Saint Pierre ∙ RTF ∙ Live Recording
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Three Preludes
rec. 28 October 1951 ˇ Hamburg ˇ Studio ˇ NDR ˇ Radio Studio Recording
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Chorale Prélude in G Major ‘Jesu Joy, Of Man’ arr Myra Hess
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Allegro from Piano Sonata in C Major, KV 545
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op 53
rec. 20 November 1946 ˇ Paris ˇ Studio d’Essai ˇ RDF ˇ Radio Studio Recording
CD 2
Johann Sebastian Bach
Partita No 2 in C Minor, BWV 826
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No 30 in E Major, Op 109
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Études Symphoniques, Op 13
Fryderyk Chopin
Ballade No 3 in A-flat Major, Op 47
rec. 25 September 1965 ˇ Ludwigsburg ˇ Schloss ˇ SDR ˇ Live Recording
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Rondo capriccioso in E Major, Op 14
Prelude and Fugue No 1 in E Minor, Op 35
rec. 28 October 1951 ˇ Hamburg ˇ Studio ˇ NDR ˇ Radio Studio Recording

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