Peter Katin at The Red Hedgehog

Barcarolle, Op.60
Three Waltzes, Op.64
Sonata in B minor, Op.58
Ballade in A flat, Op.47
Four Mazurkas, Op.24
Andante spianato & Grande Polonaise, Op.22

Peter Katin (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 25 October, 2006
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

The Red Hedgehog (named after Brahms’s favourite coffee-house in Vienna), and conveniently located very near to Highgate tube station, is a café by day and a recital venue by night. The word ‘bohemian’ seems an apt description for this intimate, informal and friendly ‘performance space’.

The resident piano is a Yamaha, and on this my first visit to The Red Hedgehog the instrument sounded excellent in the sympathetic acoustic (aided by newly-installed wooden panels). The sound is immediate and focussed, and the effect was like listening to a recital in the privacy of one’s own home and joined by friends. (The audience capacity is 105 persons!) Peter Katin, who will turn 76 on 14 November, judged the intimacy of the venue to a nicety – what could have been intimidating and overly-loud was always warmly communicative and dynamically expansive but never gratuitous.

Katin’s playing of Chopin reflected the composer’s classical and lucid aspects, and aided in this regard by the pianist’s minimal use of the sustaining pedal. Such clarity was in accord with Katin’s non-indulgent but shapely accounts that seemed fresh and spontaneous (irrespective of how often he has played these works during his 50-year career). The great Barcarolle enjoyed fluency and sensitivity, and the three waltzes were rendered with affection; the first, the so-called ‘Minute Waltz’ (the signature-tune of BBC Radio 4’s long-running comedy-quiz “Just a Minute”, although there was no sign of Nicholas Parsons!) was as elegant as the next waltz was soulful as the next was jocular.

Katin’s conception of the B minor Sonata was all-of-a-piece, the movements played virtually attacca and with little or no slowing for ‘second subjects’ and the like. Katin’s technique isn’t these days up to the dextrousness needed for the scherzo (although the trio was subtly mysterious) and aspects of the succeeding Largo tended to be matter-of-fact (although there was much that was meltingly effective), and the outer movements were commanding, the finale being a satisfying summation.

After the interval, itself a convivial gathering, Katin gave a superb rendition of the A flat Ballade; again it was his wholeness of conception that particularly satisfied. The Mazurkas were less successful, though, Katin’s visibility removed some of the music’s essential enigma, although the earthy aspects were well brought out. To end the published programme, the Andante spianato was hypnotic, Katin’s ‘even’ playing beautifully judged. The Grande Polonaise usually seems an uncouth rejoinder, but Katin brought old-world charm to it, and what a difference it made.

“Well, if you insist” was Katin’s response as he offered an encore. “I only know one more piece! In case you think I’m tinkering with it, I’m not, I’m playing the original version”. This was the A flat Waltz, Opus 69/Number 1 – by Chopin, of course! – and it was a gentle way to end, only slightly disturbed by a knock on the front door. Complaining neighbours? No, it was Peter Katin’s minicab driver!

This was an occasion when venue and musician seemed made for each other. My first visit to The Red Hedgehog will not be my last!

  • Next performances at The Red Hedgehog: Colin Stone plays Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues on Sundays 29 October (1-12) and 5 November (13-24), both at 4 o’clock; and guitarist Craig Ogden and saxophonist Gerard McChrystal team up on 3 November at 8 p.m.
  • The Red Hedgehog
  • The Red Hedgehog is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
  • Box Office: 020 8348 5050

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