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CD Review

The Art of Julius Katchen

Volume 3

  • Johannes Brahms:
  • Piano Concerto #1 in D minor, Op. 15
  • Piano Concerto #2 in B Flat Major, Op. 83 *
  • Robert Schumann:
  • Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 **
  • Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17
Julius Katchen, piano
London Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
* London Symphony Orchestra/János Ferencsik
** Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/István Kertész
Decca 460828-2 2CDs 156m ADD
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These titanic performances of the two Brahms piano concertos have always been amongst collector's favourites and they now return in this superbly remastered Katchen edition. Add that to an equally magisterial recording of the Schumann concerto with the lamented Kertész and the dazzling Fantasie Op. 17 by the same composer and you surely have a winner.

Monteux was nearing the end of his life when this 1959 recording was made. The magical pairing of the octogenarian conductor with the thrilling young American pianist was surely a partnership made in heaven and the magical recorded sound continues to confirm an interpretation of this work that has never been out of the catalogue. Comparisons with the equally famous Curzon/Szell partnership are instructive but it would be hard to choose the better, not to mention the equally magisterial Gilels/Jochum (DG) in the same concerto.

In the Second Piano Concerto we find an equally mercurial Katchen accompanied by the Hungarian master, Ferencsik, another shining example of musical interpretation. The 1960 recording is of Kingsway Hall vintage and again the pianist literally sails through the complex piano part with flying colours. The Schumann is another fine interpretation with the partnership between the American and another Hungarian quite hand in glove.

I have already waxed lyrical on the recorded sound and the fine notes by Cyrus Meher Homji and Neville Cohn definitely provide fine accompaniment to this fine historical reissue. A great memorial to a tragically short-lived pianist and to a triptych of great conductors.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech