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Kapell reDiscovered

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 6, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Next up in RCA Red Seal's reDISCOVERED series of previously unreleased performances is William Kapell, whose early death in a plane crash robbed us of decades of brilliant piano performances. These date from his last tour and display his stunning dynamic range: Piano Concerto No. 3 Rachmaninoff; Suite Bergamasque Debussy; Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Prokofiev, plus Mozart, Chopin and more!
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 6, 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Run Time: 147 minutes
  • ASIN: B00167TT8K
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,774 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
"Willy was beyond a doubt the greatest pianistic talent this country [USA] has ever produced." Leon Fleisher

America has seen its share of pianistic careers cut short for varying reasons: whether due to burnout (Van Cliburn), hand injuries (Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman), or other ailments (Byron Janis). Even Murray Perahia, arguably the best American pianist active today, has battled stress related hand problems over the last 15 years. No piano career ended more tragically than William Kapell's, who died in a plane crash in 1953.

Kapell was returning home from a tour of Australia when his plane crashed into a mountain just south of Half Moon Bay, California. Twenty years ago, an off the air recording of Chopin's B-flat Minor Sonata from that last tour emerged, and rumors have floated for years about other Australian Kapell recordings. This two CD set contains those performances, the last recorded examples of Kapell's work.

Much has been written about the "new" Kapell that emerged in the last two years of his life, one less focused on keyboard pyrotechnics and gravitating toward the traditional German masters and a more contemplative style. Kapell's performance of the Bach Suite points toward the future in that his approach has similarities to Glenn Gould's, minus the Canadian pianist's insufferable vocalizing. The Mozart Sonata is played with clarity, tasteful phrasing, and a discrete rhythmic snap. It is poles apart from the Rococo, porcelain doll approach which was already falling out of favor.

It's neither inaccurate nor demeaning of Kapell to note that the pianist was somewhat under the spell of Vladimir Horowitz. Nearly every American pianist of the time was.
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Format: Audio CD
When I first heard that these recording by William Kapell were available I thought they might have been part of an archive found by an Australian Broadcast Corporation. The reality was a bit disappointing in that Kapell's final performances were preserved in an off-the-air recording made by a music enthusiast. I had to conclude that the quality of the recordings could only be abysmal, despite that we owe a debt of gratitude that these performances were preserved.

I was curious, however, and purchased the records and, yes, the sound played over our stereo system reminded me of the worst recordings from the 1930's. I did find that listening through headphones made the sound more bearable. There also were some gaps in three of the recordings that were filled by using other earlier recordings by William Kapell: a gap at the end of the third movement of the Third Piano Concerto, the closing bars of Gates of Kiev and the first movement of the Bach Suite.

The performances are wonderful and demonstrate Kapell's range of expression from the delicacy of Mozart to the dissonances of Prokofiev. The Mussorgsky is magical; the subtle shadings of the Suite bergamasque are marvelous to hear. The Chopin, particularly the Scherzo, is played with great passion and energy. The second disc hold music Kapell had never recorded: Debussy's Suite bergamasque, Chopin's Barcarolle and Scherzo No. 1, and Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7. When one considers that Kapell could be alive today the shortness of his time is brought all the more into focus and the music on these discs becomes all the more precious and remarkable. It is difficult to assign stars to this collection. The sound may be poor but the performances are priceless. So the reason I have assigned 5 stars is due to the importance of the final performances of William Kapell.
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Format: Audio CD
I happened to catch All Things Considered (Saturday 10 May 2008). They had a discussion of William Kapell (William Kapell recordings turn up down under -- [...]). I have loved classical music for decades but I had never heard of William Kapell. NPR played portions of Kapell's recordings and they can be heard at indicated web site. I have to say the music was astounding. This album represents music played on Kapell's final tour (before he was killed in a plane crash. I'm not easy to impress but Kapell impresses and that's understatement. Some of the music is scratchy (for example, Mozart Sonta in B Flat for example) but this in no way detracts from the presentation (think of listening to classical music on old 78 rpm recordings). Kapell plays classical piano the way piano should be played but rarely is. Don't take my word for it: Listen to the NPR discussion. One music critic called Kapell's play about as close to perfect piano as is humanly possible to achieve; no arguments from me...WOW!
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I have found that there are two types of people who listen to classical music. There are those who listen to a particular work in the early phase of building their knowledge or library. These people are often swept up in the glories of the music, and fail to distinguish between the individual performance or interpretation of the piece with the piece itself. (Many of these folks post reviews on amazon with headings that say something like "Best Performance of Beethoven's 5th symphony EVER!!!") I admire their excitement and zeal, and given the atrophy facing the market for classical music I welcome their prostelytizing for an ever shrinking classical audience.

The second group of people do a deeper kind of listening. They (we) do a deeper listening into the music - gleaning new perspectives and insights from particular performances. Folks whose knowledge of music goes beyond mine; pointing out differences between the performance and the composer's score. The kind of folks who own several sets of Beethoven piano sonatas, but continue to return to Schnabel, despite the age of the recordings, to hear the hidden glories that lie within.

It is this second group of people who will enjoy these recordings. And there are enjoyable. Immensely enjoyable in fact. I really didn't know what to expect, reading as I did that these recordings originated from acetates recorded off a radio. I don't know what type of radios they have in Australia. I know that they have some large, ungainly mammals down under, but they must have some pretty large radios because these recordings have a pretty full frequency spectrum. Good texture in brass and strings, and more importantly, the beauty of tone characteristic of Kapell.

That's the good news.
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