Notes and Editorial Reviews
Many great American pianists have been attracted to academia, where they can sustain their artistry away from the proverbial big time and nurture young talents along the way. They wind up known and respected but rarely famous, and tend to be musicians’ musicians. A good example is Howard Karp, who passed away in June 2014. Born in Chicago in 1929, Karp studied at the Oberlin Conservatory, and then at Juilliard with Rosina Lhevinne. He later spent two “heavenly” weeks studying Beethoven in Wilhelm Kempff’s Positano master classes. In 1972 Karp joined the University of Wisconsin faculty and became professor emeritus in 2000. More importantly, he was an extraordinary pianist with a wide repertoire, who commanded a big technique and a tone to
The contents of this six-CD set stem from concerts recorded between 1962 and 2007. For the most part, recording quality is surprisingly consistent and good, considering the archival provenance. Proceeding from disc to disc, the two large-scale Schumann works that open the collection, the C major Fantasy and Sonata No. 3 in F minor, fully embrace the composer’s wild side, yet pay careful heed to all of the indicated and implied inner voices and varied articulations.
Karp’s expansive yet grippingly sustained tempos in Liszt’s B minor Ballade convey an unusually orchestral conception of a work that young pianists often bang to death. If anything, Karp’s lustrous sonority opens up even more in Schubert’s posthumous B-flat and C minor sonatas: listen to the latter’s finale, and notice the galloping left-hand writing’s shapely specificity.
Although the last of the D. 935 Impromptus suffers from a muffled recording, Karp’s hurling descending runs and pointed syncopated accents nevertheless leave a mark. Karp similarly explores the Chopin B minor sonata’s polyphonic and harmonic complexities, although the slightly strident sound quality conveys a monochrome patina in contrast to the half tints and nuanced dynamics present in an arrestingly ruminative Chopin C minor Mazurka Op. 56 No. 3.
A group of six pieces from Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage fuses a serious, probing textual approach with appropriate virtuosic abandon that reminds me of Claudio Arrau’s greatest Liszt performances, and that’s high praise! Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” and Op. 111 sonatas receive particularly gratifying performances that stand out for their fusion of ardent temperament and proportioned fluency, with lots of insightful details to savor, such as more rhythmic backbone in the Op. 111 Arietta’s left-hand broken octave C-natural ostinato, and for the manner in which the “Hammerklavier” Scherzo’s phrase displacements weightlessly collide.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations (minus the repeats) become more nuanced and dance oriented as Karp settles into the work, even at the fast tempos he often sets for the movements originally deployed for a harpsichord’s two manuals. However, the D major Fourth Partita better showcases Karp’s Bachian expertise, abetted by a warmer, more resonant recorded ambience. Karp’s Mozart K. 576 is eloquently centered and shaped from the start, as is a brisk and disarming reading of the Rondo finale to Schubert’s D major D. 850 sonata. Stunning performances of Aaron Copland’s Variations and Leon Kirchner’s First Sonata easily explain both composers’ glowing inscriptions on the pianist’s copies of their scores. The booklet contains extensive, well-written program notes by Kenneth Woods that generously incorporate relevant comments by Karp himself. Howard Karp may have shunned the limelight, yet his artistry basks in it. Big time.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Variations for Piano by Aaron Copland
Howard Karp (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930; USA
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