Peter Katin, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Some 55 years ago, Peter Katin embarked on a career that would earn him a fond place in the hearts of a certain generation, providing them with introductions to core works treasured for their unshowy integrity. This farewell recital at the Wigmore Hall was a return to the venue which had witnessed his debut at 18 in December 1948.

He was born in London, son of a Lithuanian-Jewish sign painter and, a precocious talent, started at the Royal Academy when he 12. After his debut, he began to notch up international engagements - not least the first postwar solo tour of Russia. A performance of Rachmaninov's D minor Concerto in 1953 changed his image almost overnight, and led to his being constantly in demand for the most taxing of Romantic concertos until the late Sixties.

He then decided to put the great warhorses to one side and concentrate on composers he had neglected - like Chopin, whom he now values as one of the most revolutionary composers for the piano. He returned to London in 1985 after a six-year teaching stint in Ontario.

In truth, this wasn't Katin's first farewell concert but, discounting a lunchtime date at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon next month, it is liable to be his last. For it, he chose a first half of Mozart, Schubert and Debussy. In the Mozart Sonata No 10 in C (K330) and the Schubert Impromptu in B flat, the old, familiar virtues were in place: there was no milking of the phrases, no mugging for effect.

They shone especially in the slower passages of the Schubert and Debussy Estampes, although at times the exigencies of the faster runs reminded one why it is not for nothing that concert pianists are acknowledged as athletes.

This was not the sometimes circus showmanship of Horowitz, nor the granite implacability of a Richter, nor yet the passion of an Argerich, but something altogether more human, on occasion even fallible - something at times much more in line with one of his great mentors, the legendary Chilean pianist, Claudio Arrau.

This influence was even more marked in the second half, which was devoted entirely to Chopin, the gravitational centre of the concert. Like Arrau, he gave us a Chopin who was not merely a purveyor of ghostly ballrooms or of liquid beauty, but one could almost say weirdly re-imagined by a composer like Beethoven, as though he had something more important and awkward to say, darker with wisps of gaiety.

After a ballade and waltzes, Katin moved to the intimacy of the Nocturne in D flat major, and concluded with the Polonaise-Fantaisie Op 61, Chopin's last large work in which he was pushing the boundaries towards a freer form. And with that final act of heartfelt advocacy, the seventy-plus Katin took his leave of the concert platform.

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