Sonata in B flat minor
En rêve (Nocturne)
Venezia e Napoli
Liszt, orch. Lambert
Années de Pèlerinage (Deuxième année: Italie) – Dante Sonata
Walton, trans. Kentner
Façade – Valse
Louis Kentner (piano)
Sadler’s Wells Orchestra
Constant Lambert [Dante Sonata]
Recorded between 1938 and 1951 – all made in London for Columbia
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: NAXOS HISTORICAL
Duration: 77 minutes
I haven’t heard too many of Louis Kentner’s recordings, but when I have – not least his breathtaking version of Lyapunov’s Transcendental Studies – then the term ‘Great Pianist’ has always seemed apt. Kentner (1905-1987) was born in Hungary (in a region now in Czechoslovakia) – and studied at the Budapest Academy before making his debut in his mid-teens – but settled in England in 1935 and then become a British citizen.
There’s some marvellous stuff on this rewarding CD, which opens with a dryly humorous excerpt from Walton’s “Façade” (heard in Kentner’s own transcription and recorded in 1939) and continues with a poised but menacing Csárdás macabre (1951) – if it is possible to be both refined and satanic, then Kentner manages it. By contrast, En rêve (also 1951) is delicately woven, Venezia is shapely and blooming and Napoli (both from 1938) is full of bravura brilliance contrasted with powerful declamation. Kentner’s virtuosity is a given and his musicianship is notable.
It’s good to find here such a convincing version of Balakirev’s Sonata in B flat minor (recorded 1949) – a somewhat unusual construction of Andantino-Mazurka-Intermezzo-Finale (the latter being the longest movement) – which is full of fine things and played with imperious conviction by Kentner in his unbroken decoration, muscular dance, inward expression and vitality. Chopin’s Bolero (1949) enjoys a judicious blend of hypnotic rhythm and fantastical ornamentation crowned by variegation of touch and flexibility of pace.
The final track is a real curiosity: Constant Lambert’s version for piano and orchestra of Liszt’s ‘Dante’ Sonata, the final part of the Italian leg of the ‘Years of Pilgrimage’ cycles. Lambert arranged the Liszt for a 1940 Sadler’s Wells ballet choreographed by Frederick Ashton, with Robert Helpmann and Margot Fonteyn among the dancers, and produced a rather striking piece, true to Liszt in the scoring and preserving the drama and mysticism of the music. Kentner – something of a Liszt specialist – enters into the ‘changed’ spirit of Liszt’s piano original and it’s good to have this version with Lambert himself conducting.
The sound throughout is pretty good – at least timbres are not contaminated – but the top end seems a little dulled and one suspects the 78s might yield more openness than has been achieved here. (There are some pitch-fluctuations in the Liszt/Lambert.) Nevertheless, Kentner’s artistry is well conveyed and that is considerable in itself. I believe the pianist married into the Menuhin family (Kentner and Yehudi Menuhin certainly performed together). In the booklet for this release, Menuhin is quoted thus: “Louis Kentner is one of the most generously cultivated of men … a musician gifted with enormous talent … a wonderful pianist.”