Anatole Kitain: The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1936-39’
What factors determine your admission into the pantheon of great artists? Talent, of course, but also luck – or the lack of it – must play a part. How else could Anatole Kitain (1903-80) have been so completely forgotten? APR first issued this collection nearly 20 years ago, yet Kitain’s status has remained exactly the same as it was: nowhere. Now repackaged in the label’s smart standard livery, Bryan Crimp’s exemplary transfers present a compelling portrait of a player who, while detached and emotionally cool (the heights of passion elude him), is among the most glittering, elegant pianists on disc.
Look no further than the first item, Chopin’s Rondo in E flat (its earliest recording and, for me, still the finest), tossed off with suave panache and, like all these discs, bathed in a warm, pearly tone that enchants the ear. This is followed by the minor masterpiece that is the Mazurka in A minor, Op 17 No 4, in which Kitain allows its baleful tale to unfold without any added self-indulgent sentimentality. The rest of the Chopin selection has many passing felicities – the gracefully graded return to the main subject of the Scherzo No 1, for example, the veiled left hand in the E flat minor Etude (doubtless not to everyone’s taste) and the fabulous articulation in the Revolutionary Etude.
Kitain offers a very different perspective on ‘Vallée d’Obermann’ (another first recording?) to Horowitz’s nerve-shredding ecstasy, one which many will find too glibly matter-of-fact, hardly the case in the two Petrarch Sonnets and the dazzling dispatch of ‘Feux follets’. The Brahms Ballade and Op 39 Waltzes would not on their own be reasons for investing in this set, nor Schumann’s Toccata, though Kitain sends it spinning on its tedious way with more musicality than Barere could muster. What clinches it for me is the fabulous account of Godowsky’s potpourri on themes from Die Fledermaus, in which Kitain’s phenomenal technique, aristocratic poise and lucid handling of the contrapuntal textures (mischievously witty as surely intended) are in a class attained by only a chosen few.