There’s a feast for Katin admirers in these three very contrasting discs. The focus is Chopin, as two CDs are devoted exclusively to the composer’s music, and the third is a retrospective that ranges over many decades.
We should start there. ‘Fifty Years of Music Making’ is the subtitle of this RP disc but that doesn’t relate to the recordings which span only four decades. It begins with what is believed to be an experimental 78 from 1948. This is quite a rare example of Katin’s Bach, a prelude and fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier, though there is distortion in louder passages. We jump to a 1968 tape of Mozart’s Rondo in A minor K511 which has real nuance and colour. The Moonlight Sonata, from Katin’s studio, made on tape in 1976, is measured but sustained well and sporting a playful Allegretto and a fiery finale – made more so, one thinks, because of the studio; it sounds very fierce in places. The Schubert Impromptus are from an unknown location, made at an unknown time. The G flat is intimately shaped but the left hand hints at incipient danger whilst the E flat is crystalline, even if the recording is rather blatant. Katin’s Debussy is playful and communicative, and the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie that closes this disc is ex- Olympia , from 1987.
The second RP disc houses Chopin performances made between 1976 and 2006 and the Orchestral Concert disc goes back to a live performance at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon from 1967. There is some overlap here and it makes for most instructive listening. The B minor Sonata is common to both discs. The RP performance was made in Katin’s studio in 1976. This later studio performance wields a much slower Largo and finale, whereas the first movements are broadly similar to the 1967 Croydon concert performance. The later reading is broader, grander, and with a veiled and rather recessed sound. The Croydon recital is much more present acoustically and timbrally too, and Katin’s playing is heard on the wing with great immediacy. I much prefer the Croydon performance for its drama and intensity and also for the recorded sound, which is excellent. The RP sound is rather clangy from time to time, and the playing a little too safe. You’ll find that Katin’s Croydon performance of the Waltz in C sharp minor Op.64 No.2 is not too dissimilar to his Queen Elizabeth Hall recital performance from 1994 but whilst the former catches his tone with great warmth, the latter is rather darker. Both live readings of the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante are notably fine but the Bexhill one is a touch recessed acoustically. On balance the older Croydon performances, where there is overlap, are far superior in terms of recorded sound and also, usually, interpretatively.
Fortunately the Katin admirer need not judge between these three discs. They’re all available separately.