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14 Sonatas
Peter Katin (piano)
Claudio Records CR 35102-D
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I have had something of a love/hate relationship with Scarlatti and his sonatas.

People may say, 'What's in a name?' Indeed. But sonata seems a misnomer to me for these single movement pieces. Are they miniatures or are they substantial pieces worthy of such a distinguished descriptive title?

In the original Italian manuscripts the sonatas are described as exercises and, often, that is all that they are - merely educational pieces. Quite frankly, some of them are tedious and are best avoided.

They have no tempo indications or indications as to tone. The pianist has to be a detective.

The sonatas need levels of sound. For example, one would not expect crescendos or diminuendos as these could not be achieved on the keyboard instruments for which they were written. But some pianists do this. Peter Katin, being more intelligent, does not.

Perhaps we should simply look at them as music.

It is known that I admire the playing of Peter Katin but I am both an honest reviewer and music lover. My strong views are borne of detailed study over forty years and of my love for music.

Peter Katin began his career by playing all the big, romantic and fearfully difficult concertos. His 1953 Prom with Rachmaninov's Third was a sensation. He has played all five of Rachmaninov's concert works but it is a pity that concertos three and four and the Paganini rhapsody he has never recorded. I remember hearing his Paganini Rhapsody and wish I had recorded it. It was sublime and although the piece is rather hackneyed now I still love it. I saw Peter perform the Fourth Concerto at Portsmouth with George Hurst and, call me perverse if you wish, I believe this is Rachmaninov's most original and finest work along with the glorious Symphonic Dances.

He has also dazzled us with Tchaikovsky One, a brute of a piece to play, but in recent years he has shown us definitive versions of Mozart and Beethoven. His Brahms' of the 1970s was truly magnificent.

What is it about his playing that marks him out for me?

I will let you into a secret.

Peter is a very slow learner. He agonises over everything. He will not play anything unless he is totally happy with his performance although Prokofiev Three was an exception.

For further details see my interview with Peter available on this very website which is a hive of information.

Now for the Scarlatti. The D major K96 is noted for the clarity of repeated notes, excellent balance between hands and the ornamentation is so good that it naturally blends with the music. Few do this as well as Katin. The style and vigour are highly commendable. The other D major is K490 which highlights my reservations about this composer. It would be unfair to say it is all scales but it almost is and this is what makes it tedious. Peter tries to salvage the music by well-judged contrasts of tone. He plays all the repeats in the sonatas and this tends to give them that slightly hypnotic effect. The D minor K517 has the reliable fingerwork of this most exciting of pianists and the tempo is spot on. The A major K208 is a non-starter for me, plaintive, or do I mean plain, but, again the ornamentation is first class. The A minor K3 is a lively and rewarding piece. Again it reeks of academic devices, this time arpeggios but the deft stylish playing and the wittiness is only to be admired. The F minor K 238 is serious almost tragic with some splendid nuances from the pianist but the piece is nothing to write home about. The second F minor K239 proves all my points about this pianist: the wonderful clarity of each line and, where necessary, the sense of attack. It is this playing that is of benefit to all students and will be appreciated by them and by music lovers who want the very best. I do not care for the B flat sonata K193. It is pointless music with scales and trills; not a sonata but an exercise.

Of some significance is the C minor K84 which is a grade eight piece for Associated Board exams for the next two years. Peter realises it splendidly. The work is almost romantic and his occasional rubato is very touching. The two sonatas in G, K571 and K339 respectively are tame. The two C major sonatas, K358 and K159 have their moments, particularly K159, but Peter saves the K420 to last. This is very entertaining, foot-tapping stuff.

The sound is fine. The recording was made 15 years ago and has been 'in the can' for that length of time.

The performances are so good that anything I say will be unnecessary and foolish.

David Wright

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