Katchen: Brahms - Works for Solo Piano (6 CD box set, FLAC)

Performer: Julius Katchen
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Audio CD
SPARS Code: A-D
Number of Discs: 6 CD box set
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Decca
Size: 1.54 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

# Variations (28) on a Theme of Paganini, for piano, in A minor, Op. 35 Book 1
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Variations (28) on a Theme of Paganini, for piano, in A minor, Op. 35 Book 2
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Variations (25) and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, for piano, in B flat major, Op. 24
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Ballades (4) for piano, Op. 10
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Variations on a Theme of Schumann, for piano in F sharp minor, Op. 9
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Variations (11) on an Original Theme in D major for piano, Op. 21/1
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Variations (13) on a Hungarian song for piano in D major, Op. 21/2
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Waltzes (16) for piano, 4 hands (or piano), Op. 39
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Scherzo for piano in E flat minor, Op. 4
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Rhapsodies (2) for piano, Op. 79
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

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# Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Fantasias (7) for piano, Op. 116
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Pieces (6) for piano, Op. 118
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Pieces (4) for piano, Op. 119
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Intermezzi (3) for piano, Op. 117
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Hungarian Dances (21) for piano, 4 hands (or piano solo), WoO 1 Vol.1
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

# Hungarian Dances (21) for piano, 4 hands (or piano solo), WoO 1 Vol.2
Composed by Johannes Brahms
with Julius Katchen

Don’t hesitate to get this set

It’s a good thing I waited to write this until I’d heard these CDs a few times. I would have been guilty of understatement. Katchen’s work grows on me in much the same way Brahms’ music itself does. It is rich in nuance and insight, and never fails to please.

I’ll confess, I bought this set to fill the gaps in my piecemeal collection. What a delightful surprise to find my “stopgap” set more than holds its own against recordings by the likes of Richter, Rubinstein and Gilels. To help the reader overcome any reluctance I offer a few comments on the few “downsides” mentioned by others:

Yes, Katchen does play fast, but not always, and certainly not out of inability to hold the listener’s attention through more artful means. Katchen’s track times are often slower than Rubinstein’s or even Gilels’; but where the spirit moves him, he can go like a rocket. He’s generally fastest in the earlier works, where a case can be made for playing them with youthful ardor; Katchen does this to a T. This applies to the first 2 sonatas, the Paganini variations (why would anything associated with Paganini lack splash and dazzle?) and to a much lesser extent, parts of the Handel variations. The main thing is, it works. The very few places where I felt Katchen was rushing the music are heavily outnumbered by places where the added energy seems to “fit” like a glove.

Yes, in an exhaustive set you inevitably endure the “bottom of the barrel.” I’m surprised how little of this 6-CD set strikes me as anything less than indispensible. Every track is worth hearing. Katchen has been surpassed here and there, but he doesn’t put in a bad performance in the whole batch.

Yes, the recordings are more than 40 years old. They will not satisfy the most jaded audiophile (there’s not quite the “presence” of a good recording today). But they are amazingly clean and lifelike for their age (even the 3 tracks that are mono). They sound noticeably better than the popular Rubinstein recordings of equal vintage. At first I thought I heard a touch of bass-heaviness, but now I just think Katchen gives us a strong, clear bass line. Once again, it works. The sound is simply not a problem for a normal listener.

Finally, there’s the small stuff. Getting the CDs out of their tight-fitting sleeves without putting your fingerprints on the playing surface is well-nigh impossible, unless you give in and apply a letter opener to solve the problem once and for all. Is that any reason not to get this much wonderful music at such a low price? London has even revived the old practice of offering different program notes in different languages, so that multilingual readers can benefit from more than one set of comments. All around it’s a winner!

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