CHOPIN Études Opp10 & 35
Setting off on Op 10, you get the impression that Amir Katz is a man in a hurry, dragging Chopin’s Études out of the concert hall and back into the practice room. For all the pictorial nicknames that they may have acquired over the years, in his readings that aspect becomes less important than surmounting their formidable technical challenges. That is the first impression, not helped by an Op 10 No 3 in which speed replaces songfulness – in stark contrast to Perahia – while the grinding angst of the E flat minor (No 6) is lost at his allegretto tempo; just hear what Freire, at a more dignified pace, does with this. That said, Katz does draw its melody out to good effect, while No 8 has some richly coloured quiet playing and every note of its filigree is audible. In No 10 something seems to shift, for Katz allows himself more time to breathe, to compelling effect. The remaining two études are also more spacious than some, the articulation of No 12 rendered with impressive clarity.
To my mind, his reading of Op 25 as a whole is more involving, perfectly balancing the murmuring harp-like accompaniment and Chopin’s ineffably beautiful melody in the first of the set. If I like my F major (No 3) with a touch more wit – as witness Perahia – No 7 in C sharp minor has real pathos and depth. The G flat major (No 9) is affectionate, if less elfin than Freire’s, and this stands in great contrast with the turbulent octaves of the following Étude in B minor, into which Katz launches with great power, enjoying the contrast with Chopin’s more inner writing. He continues in this virtuoso vein with a chilling ‘Winter Wind’ and closes the disc with a fervently virtuoso account of the C minor Étude.
If ultimately Katz doesn’t alter the status quo in terms of benchmark recordings, there are some fine things on offer here.