Fresh from immersion in Minru Katz’s performance of Chopin, I’ve now turned to a brace of Beethoven sonata performances given in the early 1970s in Jerusalem. Many tapes have survived and have been restored to a high standard by Cembal d’amour and some, I suspect, were not in the best condition before that restoration process began. All I can say is that they sound to be in excellent shape.
Katz was not one given to flashy generalisations in music. Even when, for a time, he seems to have been type-cast in certain circles for his Khachaturian Concerto, this was just one side of his musical self. I recall Adrian Boult’s astonishment when after a strenuous concerto recording Katz quietly began to play Bach. Not a soul in the orchestra left his seat. Katz was not Janus-faced, he was simply a most flexible stylist. In these Beethoven performances, he reveals again his probing musicianship untainted by the need for the motoric or for the brazen. The Tempest
(April 1971) receives a performance that never loses the spine of the argument whilst always acknowledging the work’s bipartite nature. Katz evinces a pellucid quality in the first movement in which the music’s narrative is respected throughout; intensity through anticipation. He doesn’t do so through tempo manipulation. For Katz rhythmic tension is the key, not speed in itself and his tempi are unexceptional in this respect. The measured breadth of the slow movement and the enviable volatility of the finale are functions of Katz’s control. They lead to a decisive crisis, and the applause, though cut short, is well merited.
In a sense these are qualities that underline the profound and huge challenges of the Hammerklavier
, in a performance given in December 1972, six years before Katz’s untimely death. The sonata is more forwardly recorded than the Tempest
which allows detail to register with even greater immediacy. The technical challenges are unremitting but Katz is equal to them and, as importantly, the sense of titanic drama that he generates is allied to a powerful mechanical control. It’s not fanciful to wish that he had been asked to record more of his Beethoven sonatas on disc than was actually the case. At a time, now, when complete cycles are arriving thick and fast from the most unlikely quarters, it would be a valuable function of the restorer’s art to assemble as many of Katz’s sonata traversals as possible.
In the meantime we have these two to be going on with and they are distinguished examples of Katz’s powerful but selfless art.
Masterwork Index: Piano sonata 17
Piano sonata 29