Horowitz, Alexander Uninsky and Alexander Brailowsky). In time, Kitain became the private pupil of Felix Blumenfeld, whose few private pupils also included Simon Barere and Horowitz (I'm quoting here from the Wikipedia entry which, in all fairness, I wrote).
Kitain moved to France, and then to the US, but success eluded him. His European recordings were released by APR on a fascinating two disc set which show him to have been a pianist of considerable technique and interpretive powers. It's hard to know why he never achieved even the cult status of Barere. His recordings are rare, and this one, of Bach and Scarlatti, even more of an oddity because it features the so-called Siena Pianoforte.
There are doubts about the Siena Pianoforte, a richly-ornamented 19th century piano which, it is claimed, was originally commissioned in 1800 by a wealthy Sienese farmer. To my mind, the sound is quite unlike anything else from the period, and I would place it later for that reason alone. The subsequent history of the piano makes unlikely reading, and even if it were true, it is difficult to believe that the piano we hear on this recording is actually one and the same piano that in 1868 became the wedding gift from the city of Siena to the Crown Prince Umberto and was kept in Rome with other art treasures of the Royal Family.
So then - a mystery pianist playing a mystery piano.
What is less mysterious is the playing. Kitain plays with grace, power and depth - listen to the Scarlatti sonata, played with poignant simplicity, and imagine the piano quake as he unleashes the full might of Busoni's transcription of the D minor chaconne. How did the instrument survive?
There were six LPs made on the Siena piano, which included an album by Charles Rosen, which I will post as soon as I finish marking my assignments. The transfer is by that old rogue Dr Duffy, pianophile, maniacal recording restorer and philosopher. Long life to you, John!
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Jean Gilles: 3 motetten (Arion, 1973)
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