BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 – Mindru Katz, piano/ Israel Philharmonic Orch./ Josef Krips – Cembal d’amour 175, 76:55 (9/26/14) [www.cembaldamour.com] ****:
Producer and pianist Mordecai Shehori unearths more treasures from the legacy of his esteemed teacher Mindru Katz (1925-1978), beginning with a live recital performance (20 April 1971) of Beethoven’s ambitious 1796 Sonata in C Major, the longest and perhaps the most daunting of the set of three from Opus 2. The difficulties of the piece – much in the manner of a Classical etude – involve in the opening Allegro con brio broken octaves, broken chords, and trills, often demanding much by way of wrist articulation. The lyrical passages Katz realizes with a songful zest, moving into D Major and G Major with a heft that balances vocalism and dynamic might. The music’s witty stops-and-starts later become rather daunting syncopations, with the trills moving to the right hand. Fluidity and graceful serenity mark this performance, whose progress remains quite volatile, ever at the ready to leap at us like Blake’s tiger.
The lovely Adagio (in E Major) from Katz would seem to establish itself as the source of much we know in Schumann and even Chopin. The music moves in four voices, intimately, a rarified moment of chamber music, whose bass tones Katz rings out with sonorous authority. Katz switches the affect with a light touch for the Scherzo-Allegro in C Major, in which Katz demonstrates running arpeggios in the right hand as an object lesson in touch and skittering legato. The brief Trio in A Minor assumes a darker, more fertile aspect of the Romantic visage. Bold sixth chords initiate the athletic ride of the Allegro assai, which Katz moves with alacrity to its second subject in G. If anyone doubted the Brahms debt to Beethoven in his own F Minor Sonata, let him revisit the Katz realization of the secondary subject here. A virile glitter pervades the progress of this movement, since Katz’s sense of the improvisatory nature of the music makes it feel that it could explode at every moment.
For those who relish the appearance of conductor Josef Krips (1902-1974) in his collaboration in the Brahms B-flat Concerto with Artur Rubinstein for RCA, this 1858 D Minor Concerto (8 July 8 1964) with Katz comes as a blessed complement. After an appropriately fierce maestoso tutti, Katz enters with a metronomic but febrile intensity, moving into a series of drooping gestures against the tympani. Together, Katz and Krips invoke a huge elegy for Robert Schumann, with the solo interludes’ proceeding in the manner of one of that composer’s maerchen, with color accompaniment in the winds. The segue to the tragic-heroic mode occurs organically, with the French horn and Katz’s pedal point in lovely synchronicity. The throttle to the development section quite invokes Jupiter’s thunder bolt, moving with polyphonic gloom over the main idea to the equally startling waltz that comes as a brief sunlit serenade prior to another gripping storm, the recapitulation, D pedal against the piano’s E Major. Rarely have we felt the titanic harmonic struggle negotiated on such a primal level of fury, excepting the gloriously epic Kapell-Mitropoulos collaboration from New York. The last pages of the first movement, for all of their bravura flair, once more reveal the Katz capacity to make piano tone a vertical component of the “symphonic” experience.
Krips, who led some touching renditions of the Mozart Requiem in Vienna and Amsterdam, certainly captures the valediction and benediction of the Adagio here with Katz, in which the music almost ceases to move, hanging on a horn or piano pedal point, like a last leaf in the dead of winter. No matter the orchestral tissue, Katz seems to play a solo cadenza, rhapsodic, intimate, often anguished. The rambunctious Rondo movement offers Katz and Krips much opportunity for frisky bravura, polyphonic interchange, and some tender intimacy in B–flat Major. There are moments when Katz’s filigree sounds less like Brahms than a Chopin scherzo. The flexibility of tempo and accent, his pearly play, even in a moving trill, remain several of many of this artist’s especial qualities. The extended series of periods that lead to the final peroration evolve as a natural arch, the French horn, tympani, Katz, and the IPO’s realizing a magnificent climax, a consummation devoutly to be wished.