> JS Bach by Mindru Katz (piano) [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chorale Prelude; Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland arr Busoni BWV 659
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV 903
Toccata in D Major BWV 912
Italian Concerto BWV 971
Concerto in F Minor BWV 1056
Concerto in D Minor BWV 1052
Mindru Katz, piano
The Pro Arte Orchestra/Harry Newstone (Concertos in F and D)



During the course of a long, noisy and strenuous recording session of the Prokofiev First Piano Concerto and the Khachaturian, the conductor, Adrian Boult, became aware that amid the tumult the soloist was playing Bach. He quietened the orchestra and together they listened until the end. "I’d no idea he had it in him" Boult later wrote to a friend in a backhanded compliment. It was the winter of 1958 and the soloist was Mindru Katz, born in Bucharest in 1925 and who died on stage in concert in Istanbul fifty-three years later. What Boult meant was that Katz’s reputation as a bravura thirty-three year old purveyor of the brash and athletic powerhouse concertos had gone before him. As was proved to be the case in Katz’s recording of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Barbirolli this was very far from being the case.

And now here is his Bach, retrieved by Katz pupil Mordecai Shehori of Cembal d’Amour. It is strong, resilient, Romantic and persuasive. The hyphenated Bach-Busoni with which the recital begins – the Chorale Prelude Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland - has a slow, veiled, velvet sonority that is both reverential and sustained. In the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue there is a strong sense of legato, of romanticised freedoms being enjoyed within the formal constraint. His glittering treble and right hand runs impart a sense of animation and depth and the free use he makes of the pedal convey a real sense of grandeur and power. The Toccata in D major has abrupt, almost contrastive playing and phrasing – with extreme of diminuendo in the interests of internal drama. If one responds negatively to some of this Katz is never egocentric, this is playing of conviction borne of romantic affiliation. The Italian Concerto goes quite well; a stately Allegro, with clarity of voice parts brought out, and distinctly reduced dynamics in the Andante; not the most cavalier of performances or one most guaranteed to bring the house down but reasonable on its own terms.

The two orchestral concertos feature the Pro Arte Orchestra conducted by the able Harry Newstone. Maybe the strings are a little undernourished here and there but they still supply enthusiastic support to a soloist who takes the Largo of BWV 1056, the F minor, quite slowly and whilst one can defend the tempo and intent the execution – orchestral pizzicati - is rather drip-drop. By contrast I enjoyed the buoyancy of the Allegro of the D minor and the philosophic sternness of its Adagio, realised well by Katz who releases us into the light of the Allegro finale with generosity and affection.

Disappointing recording details are pretty much the only thing that mars this reissue and at just under 80 minutes it is itself conspicuously generous time-wise. Boult was right to quieten the LPO because Katz’s Bach is the mark of a musician of stature.

Jonathan Woolf

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