Mindru Katz plays BEETHOVEN, Vol. 2 – Sonata No. 11 in B-flat Major; Sonata No. 30 in E Major; Sonata No. 32 in c – Mindru Katz, p. – Cembal d’amour

Mindru Katz delivers epic and intimate Beethoven from Tel Aviv, 1971.

Mindru Katz plays BEETHOVEN, Vol. 2  – Sonata No. 11 in B-flat Major, Op. 22; Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109; Sonata No. 32 in c minor, Op. 111 – Mindru Katz, p. – Cembal d’amour 185, 76:21 (11/19/16) [www.cembaldamour.com] ****: 

Taken from the live recital by Mindru Katz (1925-1978) in Tel Aviv, 7 July 1971, these Beethoven sonatas assembled by producer Mordecai Shehori reveal Mindru Katz as among the more cerebral of virtuoso performers of the Bonn master. The opening work, the 1800 Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 22, received admiration from the composer himself as indicative of his farewell to the grand Viennese style.  Beethoven seems content to explore musical kernels and motives for their own sake, without recourse to personal drama. Katz imposes a severe and sober sensibility on the work as a whole, whose heart lies in the second movement, Adagio con molta espessione.  Here, a florid melody finds accompaniment in a bass lie that throbs and broods, while the sixteenth notes find their way into both hands and another melodic line attempts to offer consolation.

The Menuetto begins in the pure spirit of Haydn, a cautious march that wants to be a rondo, wandering between the hands.  But little ironic interjections occur, the mark of Beethoven’s burgeoning iconoclastic impulse. The variants on the opening tune become increasingly chromatic, and the result has Katz appear to improvise. The last movement does declare itself a Rondo-Allegretto, proffering a theme that dances and sings in alteration.  The chords become large and bits of canon flit in and out of the progressions.  The music would belong to Mozart were there not audacities in the harmonies that reveal a new kind of bold wit. At moments the hectic writing assumes a symphonic air, no less polyphonic. Katz has the ability to accelerate or halt on a dime, with no loss of basic pulse. What reigns in Katz remains the thorough musicianship, aided by unerring digital and rhythmic instincts.

The 1820 Sonata No. 30 in E Major has rarely gleaned such a liquid realization as that produced by Mindru Katz, who performs the entire work – including its traditionally aggressive Prestissimo second movement – as an intimate ‘bagatelle” that becomes inflated through a series of lyrical, fantasy episodes. Katz, a past master of polyphonic clarity, makes the otherwise punishing accents of the second movement assume a dancing, Baroque character. In the last movement, Andante molto cantabile ed espessivo, the theme and its six variations enjoy an improvisatory affection, especially as the trills and appoggiaturas  increase the layering process over ever-shorter note values and often audacious harmonic shifts.

The intensity of the Sonata No. 32 (1822) by Katz often threatens to become grueling, so fixed has Katz become on the severity of Beethoven’s explosive contrasts in dynamics, texture, and harmonic rhythm. A performance not for the faint of heart, this rendition. The role of arpeggios, ostinatos, trills, and tremolos has become inseparably organic to the evolution of every kernel of sound that their collective influence on Second Viennese School seems undeniable.

That the first movement ends in a serene C Major seems nothing short of miraculous after the tempests Katz creates. Katz treats the sonata less as a concert work than as an individual meditation on a grand scale, often ferocious in his exertions of will. Katz presents the Arietta of the final movement with a dirge-like simplicity, already groping in its meandering figures for some vital essence that four variations and a fantasia-coda will more deeply discern. The variants themselves progressively double the number of notes within each beat, al while liberating the trill – shades of Scriabin – in chains of exalted figurations that might be the musical counterpart for Coleridge’s “dancing rocks” in Kubla Khan. Katz appears to swallow the entire opus whole, having set a vision of its monumentality from the outset and having never wavered in his defined task. If any piano recital merits the title Ein Heldenleben, this is one!

—Gary Lemco

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