Leon Fleisher: "Willy was beyond a doubt the greatest pianistic talent this country [United States] has ever produced".
No small compliment coming from another great pianist. It is a tribute to William Kapell that, although he died at the age of 31, he was already a mature artist. One does not have a sense of unfulfilled potential, ala James Dean, for there is fulfillment in plenty on each of the nine discs in this boxed set. I know of no other pianist who gave so many definitive performances in such a short time. But the sense of tragedy, of what might have been if Kapell had not perished in a plane crash in 1953, hovers over this set.
The Chopin Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58 is easily the best this listener has ever heard, either on record or in concert - Kapell outclasses even Rubinstein. The same can be said for the Mazurkas, which carefully balance the dance elements of these small jewels with their tone poem qualities.
Both the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto and the Paganini Rhapsody eclipse nearly all other recordings, even those of the composer - who certainly knew how to play the piano.
Two other Russian concertos, by Aram Khachaturian and Serge Prokofiev, were early staples of Kapell's repertoire, and the performances are again a perfect balance of poetry and fury, which is exactly what this music requires.
A recording of Kapell in recital from March of 1953 (including another indispensable performance: the Copland Sonata) reveals that Kapell's extraordinary technique and musicianship are not the result of recording engineers and tape splicing - this is the real thing.
Perhaps most welcome of all is a twenty minute interview with Kapell, which reveals a profundity and maturity, both as man and musician, far beyond his years.
This was the first recording project from RCA after they reorganized and inventoried their vaults in the 1990s. The access to original sources is evident in the superbly restored sound (remastered by Jon Samuels) and the documentation is first rate. This boxed set is a template for how all classical music reissues should be handled, and is indispensable for all lovers of piano music.
on July 26, 1999
This is one of the most remarkable classical CD collections ever released, and is an absolute must-have for piano afficionados. Many CD boxed sets claim to be historically important; this one most assuredly is. Kapell was America's first great pianist, and remains at the pinnacle, almost 50 years after his tragic death at age 31. As a previous reviewer noted, there is too much material on these CDs to comment on in-depth, but I'll just say that most of the recordings here are definitive, which is quite remarkable, considering that many of these works have been recorded by scores of pianists, including greats such as Horowitz, Rubinstein, and others. Precious in this collection are Kapell's recordings of Bach and Schubert made in his last year. These show him as a pianist who, while capable of dazzling a stadium-sized crowd with stunning, instrument-damaging pyrotechnics, could also play with a crystalline and intimate purity, heart-to-heart, as if there were only one listener in the room. Highly, highly recommended.
on October 28, 2005
I heard William Kapell play the Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini with the fledgling Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in the late 1940's or very early 1950's. My only memory of the occasion is that I was enthralled. Kapell has held me in thrall ever since.
A few years later, in the middle 50's, I bought Kapell's recording of the same work, with Fritz Reiner and the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra (alias of The Philadelphia Orchestra). I still have that LP, though I wore it out long ago. It was the beginning of my musical education. But since 1998, we have had this wonderful box of reissues from the vaults of RCA. The sound is mostly excellent, considering the age of the monophonic originals. To this day, Kapell's Rachmaninov Rhapsody remains-in my opinion-the most impassioned, yet the most musical, reading of the piece ever recorded. No one had, or has, Kapell's combination of white-hot temperament, technical brilliance, and musical insight. We have had musical geniuses; technical wizards abound. It is the combination of these gifts, as Kapell possessed them in particular, married to his incendiary passion, that made him unique.
He was still learning, and he was learning at such an astounding rate! He had moved from Khachaturian to the most unforgettable Chopin B minor Sonata ever recorded in little more than a decade. His deep throated, noble, and articulate Bach has caused some to speculate that Glenn Gould might have found his inspiration in Kapell. One Gould biographer, and a New York critic, wrote that the reverse was true. The critic acknowledged the error, in print, noting that Kapell could not have been influenced by Gould's style since he had been dead for two years by the time of Gould's debut recital in New York City in 1955.
The lyrical side of romantic music is not what Kapell was or is known for, not his "style" as people remember him now. But listening to the lyrical music in this set shows a side of him that was, nevertheless, as real as any, and perhaps more revealing. It also gives us a notion of what we might have expected of William Kapell had he lived a normal span of years and played a normal variety of music. In a live performance, he plays Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1, with melting legato and exquisite timing: his innate sense about when to tug on the beat and when to surge forward makes the music breathe. His use of dynamic variety demands the greatest respect: at one point, the repetition of a melodic phrase is but a pale echo of its first statement. His tonal palette is no less wondrous. When a deep bass note suddenly appears, early in the A section of the ABA structure, it sounds-not loud nor quiet, not muffled nor distinct-but awesomely subterranean. Kapell begins the piece without much sustaining pedal, but in the B section, he subtly adds more and more. Then, when the A section returns near the end, the pedal disappears. This dramatic change in color-along with Chopin's change of key-seems like the parting of clouds. We are in the hands of two masters here, Chopin and Kapell. Kapell gave this performance in Carnegie Hall in February of 1945, when he was twenty-two years old.
In the Bach and Chopin works I've discussed, the steely, percussive tone that some speak of is nowhere to be heard. Rather, we hear a full, rich, and complex piano tone. In the Chopin Sonatas, the Debussy pieces, and the Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Debussy, and Albeniz, the sound Kapell produces is beautiful and varied.
He was a chamber musician of the first order, as his collaborations with Heifetz prove. (He was one of the very few musicians who had the force of personality to make Heifetz accompany HIM. And you can hear it.) And if you've never heard Rachmaninov's great Cello Sonata, played here with the grand Russian/German cellist Edmund Kurtz, you're in for a treat. There are several fine, modern stereo recordings, but this one is special. The piano part is very important-Rachmaninov did write it, after all-and Kapell is magnificent. This was Rachmaninov's next published work after the 2nd Piano Concerto, to give you an idea of its melodic grandeur. If there is a flaw here, it is that the piano is recorded too far back, relative to the cello.
Kapell died on October 30, 1953. He had just turned thirty-three. He played his last recital in Geelong, Australia, on the 22nd. It included the Chopin 2nd Piano Sonata which contains the well-known "Marche funèbre." That performance is included here, transferred from the original acetates. It is a great performance but very hard to listen to now, in light of what was to follow just over a week later. I am writing this one day short of the 52nd anniversary of Kapell's death. Had he lived until today, he would be younger than either Earl Wild or Ivan Moravec, both of whom are still making magnificent music. For those of us who love William Kapell's music, it is heartbreaking to consider, and fruitless. Thank Heaven we have recordings like the ones in this set. They are essential for any lover of good music.
on July 9, 1999
Before Van Cliburn and Glenn Gould took their rightful places on the concert stage, there was William Kapell. His recordings heretofore have been piece meal and sparse. But through the energies of his widow, Dr. Anna Lou Kapell DeHavenon and others, this long-awaited boxed set of his complete recordings gives all of us pianists and afficienados a clearer understanding of the inner-Kapell (from the 20-minute recorded radio interview, as part of the set) and his musical prowess. His "Sonata in B Minor" of Chopin is grand and symphonic in scope, with a velvet sound and devoid of sentimentality. Though only in his late 20s, he had a mature and heartfelt understanding of this work.
Any pianist who wishes to study Chopin's mazurkas should use Kapell's recorded performances here as a guide for their study. He has a true feel for the mazurka dance form. Each one is fresh with rhythmic vitality.
The live broadcast recording of the "B Flat Minor Sonata" is deeply felt and haunting; it leaves one with an eerie feeling that he understood more than we may realize. It was his last live performance, one week before his untimely death in a plane crash outside San Francisco.
There are too many works here to review in a limited amount of space, but I chose some of my favorites. But this boxed set represents a mature William Kapell beyond his years. Serious pianists, amateurs and music lovers alike should make this boxed set a mainstay in their CD library. William Kapell is the strong, towering beacon among the great American pianists, and his recorded performances here shine forth with radiant light.
on March 4, 1999
Producer Jon Samuels and BMG have earned the heartfelt thanks of Kapell fans for scouring the RCA vaults for these Kapell treasures. As an avid collector of Kapell recordings (from 78's forward), I can say this set is outstanding! Not only has BMG given us previously unreleased recordings, they have given the listener the opportunity to hear Kapell speak in a radio interview. If you have never heard of William Kapell, and do not want to pay for this 9 CD set - BUY a single Kapell CD first. You'll be 'hooked' and ready to step up to this magnificent collection. ENJOY!
During the last century we have had many tragic losses in the arts, often affecting men and women who are at the peak of their careers, shimmering with excellence, only to be silenced by death and all too often, by accidental death. The names of Anton Webern, Fritz Wunderlich, WG Sebald, Sylvia Plath, Dinu Lipatti, and so many others arise, but none as tragic as the death of William Kapell in 1953.
William Kapell is still considered by most as the America's greatest pianist, even fifty odd years after his death at the age of 31 in a plane crash. Those who heard him perform still rhapsodize over the magic he created. Those of us who are left with only recordings, such as this spectacular boxed set of all of his recordings, can only be uplifted by the man's genius, his extraordinary technical facility, and his intuitive, profound approach to the great works of music.
All styles of music were easily accessible to Kapell. Listen to the Mozart, Bach, Scarlatti, Paganini and Mendelssohn and try to imagine performances of more clarity and finesse than these. His Chopin is well represented in this set and glows with the uncanny power and tenderness that Chopin combined in his works. His works for solo piano by Rachmaninov and Shostakovich are the gold standard, and yet his Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mussorgsky and Liszt raise the bar for excellence that has since not been excelled. Joyously this set includes concerti including Prokofiev, Beethoven, Khachaturian, and Rachmaninov with the various conductors who saw Kapell's gifts and championed them.
The memory of this great artist is felt throughout the year, but never as acutely as on October 29th which marks the date of his cruel death. The world was brightened for too short a time by William Kapell, yet because of his recorded legacy his legend lives on. This is an impossibly fine box set of treasures. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, October 05
All the possible adjectives for describe the craft of this giant keyboard player are unable to define the glorious notes he produced in every piece he played.
Not only the perfection technique was obvious when you listen him , Kapell was a poet. He played with such intensity , rapport and commitment , as very few players in the keyboard story have been able to reach.
His level performances always had the trademark immortality.
I know about Kapell since 1975 , and since that moment I've been other hard fan of his craft.
Acquire that box and you'll be carried to another pianism level every time that Kapell plays.
And warning : every October 29 of every year we will always remember him, when that absurd accident in 1953 , made Kapell not play any more.
And the rest is silence!
on December 11, 1998
Kapell's recordings have been sporadically available until now, but the limited sonics pretty much spoilt any attempt to hear the music. These remastered recordings are a revelation. Here was an astonishing pianist -- Horowitz calibre control and technique, coupled with Schnabel (or Kempff or Richter) calibre thoughtfulness and sympathy. The complaint is that he was a show-off. It's justified. But, then, he had a lot to show off. A great set -- worth the money.
on December 13, 2004
In listening ot this collection, I think of the other 20th century pianistic genius who died tragically young: Dinu Lipatti (d. 1950). Both men excelled at Chopin but each had a thoroughly individual sound. In addition to Chopin, the Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev are especially fine. Highly recommended.
on September 28, 2010
Anyone with an affinity for classical music and pianistic excellence should (and must) purchase this incredible boxed set from RCA. A flawless creation to behold, the nine-disc packaging of Mr. Kapell's legendary recordings is a visual extravaganza. Much time and care was invested in the meticulous design of this collection, from the adroitly conceived outer packaging, to the richly rewarding music and performances held within. And as any listener explores the gifts and diversity that truly defines William Kapell as an artist, those rewards continue to spill forth. Yes, there is much more here than meets the eye; so very much splendor for the ears.
The sound quality of these priceless recordings is exceptionally fine, with high compliments going to the engineers who obviously approached this project as a labor of love. The broad spectrum of composers and works contained on each disc exposes the pianist's impressive range of thoughts, tastes, attitudes and virtuosity.
So, here is your opportunity to purchase a virtual (and highly significant) "wink" in musical history, devoted to a remarkable figure whose life was over far too soon---but whose noble legacy endlessly endures.