Notes and Editorial Reviews
Admirers of Byron Janis do not need to be told of his febrile virtuosity and inborn affinity for Russian music. But they do need to know about these two rare and splendid concerto telecasts. The 1963 Prokofiev Third with Paul Paray at the helm more or less confirms what we know from the pianist's incisive and poetic Mercury recording with Kyrill Kondrashin, while the 1968 Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody captures Janis in a major work he otherwise did not record (commercially at least). The latter gains fire and momentum as it progresses, capped by a finale where Janis' frighteningly accurate runs and leaps match the gaunt electricity of Kapell, Fleisher, and Wild note for note.
In contrast to the nearly immobile body-language of
his one-time mentor Vladimir Horowitz, Janis often bounds from the piano bench and flails his arms as if they were being manipulated by a puppeteer, but not to the distracting extremes you see from Lang Lang or Olle Mustonen. The visual direction takes both works' resourceful, concertante-like orchestration into account, although you might wish to see more of what the conductors are doing from an orchestra member's view.
The bonus items are no less than a windfall. Any footage of the tragically short-lived Julius Katchen is welcome, especially in Brahms, the composer with whom the pianist's name most often is linked. The extroverted, big-boned qualities of Katchen's interpretation of the F-sharp minor sonata belie the pianist's physical economy, although astute viewers will notice a gradual build-up of perspiration on his cheeks! The Hungarian Dances also are ravishingly textured and effortlessly executed. In short, this highly recommended DVD is a treat for pianophiles.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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