Notes and Editorial Reviews
D 899; D 935
Peter Katin (fp)
DIVERSIONS 24112 (64:21)
Now approaching 80, after 60 years of public performance, the fine English pianist Peter Katin has behind him a very well rounded discography, including music of Clementi, Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Khachaturian, and Finzi. Katin made his debut in London in 1948, following it with a successful concert career. In 1983 he played an all-Chopin concert in New York, earning a
glowing review in the
New York Times
, in which Tim Page wrote that “he opted for clean, continent performances of refreshing lucidity.” With this fine recording of the Schubert Impromptus, Katin has given himself and us a special birthday present to celebrate his upcoming octogenarian status.
Page’s assessment of his playing applies to the way he plays the Schubert Impromptus, although I would add “fervently expressive” to Page’s description. Katin has made a specialty of period pianos, and has recorded on several different instruments, including a Broadwood played by Chopin on a visit to London. The Impromptus on this disc were recorded on an 1832 Clementi square piano in Katin’s own studio in1994. Most of the instrument has a full and resonant sound, although the very top of the treble is thin, and right-hand melodies are sometimes overwhelmed during loud passages. The tuning, in accordance with early keyboards, is lower than that of the modern piano: the A is tuned to 423, considerably lower than the 440-442 of today’s instruments to a sensitive musician’s ear, but hardly a matter of great importance to the average listener. (Even if detected, the ear quickly adapts to the pitch.) The booklet information suggests a lower volume during playback for a “realistic impression” of the sound quality, suited to room size rather than a concert hall.
Katin plays Schubert with elegance, sound musicianship, and sensitivity to the Schubert idiom. There is an element of reserve and restraint in his expression that serves Schubert well, e.g., in those special places in the Impromptus—in the G? (D 899, No. 3) and B? variations (D 935, No. 3), where Schubert writes his most exquisite and heart-wrenching modulations; in playing them without exaggeration yet with subtle nuance, he makes a perfect effect. There is an attractive old-fashioned style in his playing, for example in not quite coordinating bass and treble, and free use of rubato to underscore phrasing. His combination of sensitivity and strength has much in common with Annie Fischer’s Schubert interpretation; both play Schubert from the heart, but without exaggerated expressive devices.
The Clementi piano has certain desirable attributes—clarity and mellowness, chiefly. Like many period pianos, it has a woody, percussive sound—never coarse or brittle, but lacking the sonorous ring of a modern instrument. Although Katin makes the most of indicated dynamic contrasts, I miss the nuances one can achieve on a modern piano.
The recording is close and vivid, giving the listener the effect of being in the piano’s immediate vicinity.
FANFARE: Susan Kagan
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