Classical Reissue Reviews

Mindru Katz plays BEETHOVEN = Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, “Tempest”; Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, “Hammerklavier” – Mindru Katz, p. – Cembal d’amour

A Beethoven journey in the Horowitz style, except that master never dared these terrible beauties that Katz executes with masterly passion.

Published on October 8, 2012

Mindru Katz plays BEETHOVEN = Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, “Tempest”; Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, “Hammerklavier” – Mindru Katz, p. – Cembal d’amour

Mindru Katz plays BEETHOVEN = Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest”; Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier” – Mindru Katz, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 169, 69:50 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:

Once more, Cembal d’amour celebrates the rarified art of Israeli pianist Mindru Katz (1925-1978) in two potent sonatas by Beethoven, the D Minor Sonata of 1802 (rec. 20 April 1971 in Jerusalem) and the massive B-flat Major Sonata of 1818 (rec. 9 December 1972 in Jerusalem). The kind of blazing authority Katz brings to both manages to combine the sheer bravura of the technical virtuoso and the studied craftsmanship of the scholar-musician in his pursuit of artistic truth.

The D Minor Sonata allows Katz to project a boldly aggressive stance in the rolled chords, trills, and thrilling octaves that constitute the Largo/Allegro first movement. The recitative moments point almost directly at the chromatic line of the last movement of the later Ninth Symphony. Katz articulates legato and percussive filigree with obsessed emotional fury with no loss of accuracy. A kind of manic inwardness pervades this movement, quite charismatic. The B-flat Major Adagio demands rolled chords and studied recitative much in the manner of the first movement, adding a military drum tattoo to the mix. The highly emotive singing character of the aria in a broken style suggests the influence of C.P.E. Bach. The three-hand effects easily made an impression on Schumann. Clarity and delicacy mark the Katz realization of this multi-hued song, and connoisseurs will likely compare this rendition that by Sviatoslav Richter for EMI. The famous last movement, a moto-perpetuo in the form of a protean Allegretto, elicits from Katz a panoply of volatile touches and colors, not devoid of a bravura galloping wit. A music-box elegance from Katz brings this performance to a sterling conclusion.

Auditors may wish to play the opening chords of the Katz Hammerklavier a dozen times, just to distinguish that a piano and not a cannon opens the rendition. Whereas the sheer technical demands of this most grueling of the Beethoven sonatas unglued veteran Beethoven interpreter Artur Schnabel, Katz seems to gain more emotional authority and poise as he warms to the colossal strokes of the opening Allegro’s mixture of conjunct and disjunctive tissues, its sudden shifts of dramatic and chromatic texture from throttling staccato chords to strict polyphony and playful scherzandi. The final chords fff seem barely a cryptic smile under the Katz paw. The musical world of recorded performance would not have such a torrid and monumental version again until the 1983 rendition by Emil Gilels.

The B-flat Major Scherzo has Katz the thespian in full cast of characters, often rendering the runs and registration shifts much like a Chopin incarnation of the scherzo. The middle section in a virulent 2/4 really sets our jaws on fire. The Adagio sostenuto, what pianist Wilhelm Kempff called “the most magnificent monologue Beethoven ever wrote,” Katz accords a deep meditative veneration. The music’s essential singing character Katz maintains with a taut elasticity, conscious of the music’s marking Appassionato e con molto sentimento. The grand gestures and labyrinthine evolutions, mainly in F-sharp Minor, endow a whole universe of Romantic imitators, not the least of whom include Wagner, Brahms, and Mahler. Clear, sober, and etched lines define the Katz approach, resonant and poignant; the rising and falling sequences more than hint at the Brahms E Minor Symphony. The magic of the last movement Fuga a tre voci, con alcune licenza consists in transcending pure technique to release the often ferocious poetry beneath. The music at first opens in the manner of Liszt, an experiment in colors and improvisatory energy. Then, a surge of Bach’s motive power that ends on pedal point and uses the trill to gird a jerky series of syncopes that explode in Katz’s hands into another Bach invention that becomes a titan’s fugue in three voices. Once Katz has the leaps and coiling filigree in hand, the Allegro assumes its true risoluto character in a volley of thunderous gestures. When the patina softens, we hear Beethoven of an eerily tender persuasion. The playing by Mindru Katz is pure Horowitz, except that other master never dared this journey of terrible beauty.

—Gary Lemco




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