Louis Kentner plays Brahms, Bartok, Walton, Balakirew, Dvorak, et al

Louis Kentner plays Brahms, Bartok, Walton, Balakirew, Dvorak, et al

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The present 10-album compilation illustrates Louis Kentner as a successful soloist, chamber musician and concert pianist. A highly gifted musician, Kentner studied from 1911 to 1922 at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, attracting early attention in 1916 with a concert performance of Chopin. At the Music Academy, he studied piano with Arnold Székely, chamber music with Leó Weiner and composition with Hans Koessler and Zoltán Kodály. He made his official debut at the age of 15 (1920) and began concert tours of European cities, attracting particular attention for his interpretations of Chopin and Liszt. He won the Liszt Prize in Budapest and the Chopin Prize in Warsaw. In 1933, Kentner gave the first Hungarian performance of Béla Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto (conducted by Otto Klemperer); in London in 1946, the first performance in Europe of the composer’s Third Piano Concerto under Sir Adrian Boult. Bartók’s artistic oeuvre found a special place in Kentner’s heart.


Profil’s 10-disc Louis Kentner collection offers a diverse, if somewhat skewed, representation of the Hungarian-born/London-based pianist’s large recorded output. Among his sessions with violinist Yehudi Menuhin included here, the 1961 Ravel Trio, 1954 Chausson concerto, the 1956/57 Brahms sonatas, and 1950 Walton sonata represent their collaboration at its equitable best. However, two entire CDs given over to their 1951 Bach sonatas capture Menuhin on raspy and intonationally tenuous form, notwithstanding Kentner’s sensitive contributions. On the other hand, Kentner’s Dvorák “Dumky” Trio with violinist Henry Holst and cellist Anothony Pini was the 78 era’s point of reference.

I like the genial interaction between Kentner, clarinetist Reginald Kell, and violist Frederick Riddle in Mozart’s wonderful “Kegelstatt” Trio, while the pianist’s intense and angular partnership with violinist Jeno Lener in Beethoven’s A major Op. 30 No. 1 sonata makes the music sound positively contemporary. Kentner’s otherwise run-of-the-mill 1959 Mozart C minor K. 491 concerto stands out for the pianist’s own harmonically wild first-movement cadenza. The 1958 Brahms B-flat concerto with Adrian Boult is riddled with slapdash articulation and glaring wrong notes from the soloist, compounded by slack ensemble elsewhere (the slow movement’s misaligned clarinet/piano in measures 59 and 61).

The day after presenting its European premiere, Kentner and Boult played Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in a BBC studio broadcast, first issued on CD by Pearl. Aside from the pianist’s momentary stumble in the final bars, Kentner offers a direct and clear reading of the piano part. Kentner’s 1930s and ’40s Liszt recordings generally make up in proficiency for what they lack in inspiration. For example, in La Leggierezza, Kentner almost always slows down before a climax, and generally keeps the left hand parked in neutral. The E-flat Paganini Etude’s descending octaves sound expertly rehearsed rather than demonic in the way of the great Horowitz and Arrau shellac versions. He brings brooding drama to the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’s opening section, but the “friska” doesn’t match the insouciance of Friedman or Moiseiwitsch.

While Kentner’s 1948 Liszt Sonata misses the fantasy and volatility of Cortot or Barerre, its clarity and classicism warrant respect. The same applies to Balakirev’s Islamey. In his pioneering Balakirev Sonata and the first of his two recorded Liapunov Transcendental Etudes cycles, Kentner’s tone opens up as his effortless fingers fuse bravura and poetry. Kentner is also on top form in Constant Lambert’s curious arrangement of Liszt’s Dante Sonata for piano and orchestra.

To sum up, Profil’s Kentner box offers undeniable attractions, not to mention its modest cost. But why waste two discs on Menuhin’s lousy Bach, when Kentner’s Chopin Scherzi and Ballades, 1963 Beethoven Hammerklavier, and 1963 EMI Liszt Années de Pèlerinage excerpts have yet to be reissued?

– ClassicsToday.com (Jed Distler)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PH20085

  • UPC: 881488200850

  • Label: Hänssler & Profil

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák, Béla Bartók, Ernest Chausson, Franz Liszt, Jenö Hubay, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev, Sergei Mikhailovich Lyapunov, William Walton, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Adrian Boult, Constant Lambert, Harry Blech

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pascal String Quartet, Philharmonia Orchestra, Sadler Wells Orchestra

  • Performer: Anthony Pini, Erika Morini, Frederick Riddle, Gaspar Cassadó, Henry Holst, Jeno Lener, Louis Kentner, Reginald Kell, Yehudi Menuhin