One of the most grown-up review sites around

2020
54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here

     
  
 

 

International mailing


 
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

 

AVAILABILITY

Buywell.com

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24 (1861) [26:30]; Variations [Studies] on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35, Books I, II (1862-1863) [11:52 + 9:37]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Études symphoniques, Op. 13 (1834-1837) [24:15]*
Julius Katchen (piano)
rec. London, March 1958; *May 1953 ADD Mono
DECCA AUSTRALIA ELOQUENCE 476 8484 [72:22]

Preferring my LP Brahms from old-timers or the likes of Klien (CD: Vox Classics 3612), Gilels, Kovacevich, Lupu or Michelangeli, I always regarded Katchen’s Decca cycle from the mid-1960s (CD: Decca 455247-2) as a variable standby of the stereo age, useful in part but spiritually slender. Pre-dating that project, the present mono accounts are of lesser calibre. You get all the notes - well most anyway: some get lost through excessive speed or untidy pedalling - but without much fantasy, refinement, or rhythmic tension. And with only occasional charm (Handel 5, 11, 12, a deliberated ‘Hungarian’ 13, 20, 22; Paganini I/11, 12; II/4, 5, 12). The theme of the Handel (the first large-scale piece JK taped for Decca, in April 1949) stays earth-bound; that of the Paganini, paradoxically beautified, fights shy of the devil. Come the puissance fences, Katchen clears them easily enough, but isolates rather than integrates the experience. Not for the first or last time, taking refuge in mechanics before musicality proves his Achilles heel – there’s a limit to the number of bionic thrills you can take - V10-powered contrary octaves, snow-boarding semiquavers … Paganini II/11, 14 [5:48, 8:27] - before praying for something subtler and more humanly vulnerable. Under-produced, both works disappoint climactically. The Handel fugue demands greater monumentality than a contra B flat at the end. And the final pages of both Paganini books - no repetition of the theme before II - lack prudence, their thumping and floundering for air - forewarned from Book I/4; Handel 24, 25 - descending into undisciplined spectacle.

The Schumann, Katchen’s only version of the work, follows the longer first edition (twelve study-variations), but omits the Supplement. I detect cool efficiency and a rush of adrenalin in the ‘concert’-style finish, but not so much warmth – one or two special moments apart (Var 2; the penultimate ‘old world’ G sharp minor, finely peaked). The 1955 Record Guide (Sackville-West/Shawe-Taylor) thought the performance wasn’t ‘among the best things this remarkable pianist has recorded. Some of the quick variations are rushed off their feet: in No 9 - with Clara Schumann’s second repeat, omitted from the Sauer text - no pianist, however steel-fingered, could expect to give us all the notes at so breakneck a speed. The recording is hollow [school hall].’ Geza Anda on Columbia (second edition) was the preferred choice of the day (CD: Testament SBT 1069).

Katchen admirers will want these first releases in CD format. Old mono edits, analogue tape pre-echo, and artless changes of ambience between takes or numbers remain, however. Tracking is ungenerous: Brilliant (in a Brahms box worth dipping into [92182/3-4]) gives separate idents for each variation – all 53 of them.

Ateş Orga

 

 


Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews


all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews


All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews

 

Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month

November 2022
Bach
Bach Orchestral Suites

del Cinque
Del Cinque Cello sonatas

Fujita Mozart
Mao Fujita Mozart

Stanczyk
Stanczyk Acousmatic Music

Oropesa

October 2022

Berg Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto Elmes

DEbussy Jeux
Debussy Jeux

Romantic pioano masters
Romantic Piano Masters

The future is female - Vol 2
Volume 2 - The Dance

impromptu harp music
Complete Harp Impromptus

 


Return to Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.