Classical Reissue Reviews

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor – Mindru Katz, p./ The Israel Broadcast Authority Orch./ Mendi Rohan/ Sergiu Comissiona (Grieg) – Cembal d’amour

Two significant Romantic piano concertos performed by Romanian-Israeli virtuoso Mindru Katz (1925-1978) in live concerts given in Jerusalem.

Published on March 11, 2013

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor – Mindru Katz, p./ The Israel Broadcast Authority Orch./ Mendi Rohan/ Sergiu Comissiona (Grieg) – Cembal d’amour

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 – Mindru Katz, piano/ The Israel Broadcast Authority Orchestra/ Mendi Rohan/ Sergiu Comissiona (Grieg) – Cembal d’amour CD 171, 61:19 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

From 1962-1963 Israeli radio archives, we have two significant Romantic piano concertos performed by Romanian-Israeli virtuoso Mindru Katz (1925-1978) in live concerts given in Jerusalem. Schumann’s perennial Piano Concerto (1841-1845) comes to use from a concert recorded in 1963, and Katz brings his considerable prowess to this tenderly inventive work whose themes repeat in a concession to Classical symmetry. While not small in scale, the Katz collaboration with Mendi Rohan consistently opts for the salon effect, an intimacy consonant with Schumann’s started purpose to create “something between a symphony, a concerto, and a sonata. . .a self-contained movement.” The dreamy affection Katz bestows after the first big tutti indeed confirms the composer’s first designation for the opening movement as a Phantasie, a balanced concept Liszt mocked as “a concerto without piano.” Katz and Rohan move through the Allegro Affetuoso with gliding, assertive grace. The transition to the recapitulation occurs so naturally we barely feel the “formality” of the procedure. Schumann resisted what he called “the spell of the roaring arpeggios and crackling octaves of the Parisian pianists,” and so conceived his original Phantasie with a minimum of bravura. Even the bold cadenza under Katz exudes warmth and lyricism rather than grim contrapuntal aggression.

The basically cyclic nature of the Concerto reveals itself from the outset of Katz’s rendition of the ephemeral and limpidly scored nine-bar Intermezzo, which moves – as had the transition to the cadenza in movement one – from a mode of F to A after coquettish interchanges of the piano with the woodwinds. The move twice anticipates the explosive tonic to open the finale: Allegro vivace, whose theme, too is a variant of that of the first movement. In sonata form, the Schumann finale takes its structural cues and “digressions” from Chopin’s E Minor Concerto, which Schumann reviewed in his professional journal in 1836. Here, Katz revels in the pearly fleetness of the progressions, then gripping hard on the stretti that jolt us in syncopations with the orchestra. The repetition of the pattern C-B-A-A of the principal theme suggests its serving as a cipher for Schumann’s beloved CLARA. The last movement joyfully varies the motif as C#-B-A-A in many-tongued harmony. Katz seems to intuit as well as realize much of the fevered enthusiasm and structural cohesion built into this most personal of keyboard concertos, whose rhetoric and sincerity of expression prevent its ever becoming a mere ‘formula” for effective display.

Sergiu Comissiona (1928-2005) noted in an Atlanta interview with me that his own teacher Constantin Silvestri had bestowed in him sensitivity for orchestral color. In the 1868 Grieg Piano Concerto from 1962 we reap the benefits of Comissiona’s attention to the lyric and animated gestures from Norwegian folk idioms that permeate the orchestral dialogues with Mindru Katz. Comissiona lingers over the secondary theme in the opening movement, which Katz plays as a ruminative nocturne. Katz’s potent trill, already a factor in the Schumann, asserts itself even more decisively in the Grieg. The microphone placement on the flute and French horn seem somewhat distant, but the glories of the piano and trumpet interchange emerge clearly.  Affectation of style simply does not apply here, either in composer or performers. The melodic “simplicity” of which Grieg is capable exerts itself in marvelous panoply, whether the influence be the Norwegian halling or the songs without words of Mendelssohn. Katz achieves a thrilling dignity in the first movement cadenza, passionate and exuberant even in the midst of firm control. Comissiona milks the orchestral transition to the coda with romantic fervor, and Katz provides the complementary coup with bold strokes.

The D-flat Adagio has always evinced in me a Japanese-lithograph effect, the idea of melody and sonic beauty’s being surrounded by infinite space. The deliberate parlando and declamation of Katz’s piano encounter the lusher, flowing melodies of the orchestra, and together they merge into a rarified alchemy that makes the concerto among the most perfect examples of the form. The French horn part, clear and palpable, moves us to the piano’s lovely voice against the strings. Jubilant energy marks the Allegro moderato e molto marcato last movement, playful and harmonically adventurous. Katz’s short but gripping cadenza gives way to the luxurious second theme, announced by flute and tremolo strings coaxed with affection by Comissiona. The dream-vision that ensues in keyboard and orchestra must be Grieg’s homage to Schumann. After a pregnant silence the variants of the original material reappear, only to transform by the cadenza into ¾ time and A Major. Comissiona lavishes the secondary theme upon with requisite grandeur in the trumpets and strings, with Katz’s full “orchestral” contribution. The last page reaffirms all of the glories this concerto bears to endure forever.

—Gary Lemco




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