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on 9 June 2008
There may be the individual recording made by others - Gilels, Rubinstein, Arrau - of a particular piece which might be preferred but as a collection of the Brahms piano works, this set has to take the prize.

The quality of original recording is high and the digital transfer seemingly well done. One has to listen very attentively to detect which of the four Ballades were recorded monaurally; a strange anachronism in the 'sixties. Also, the piano is an unusually fine-sounding instrument and I wonder if it might not be the Bösendorfer which resided in Decca's Hampstead studios around the time these recordings were made.

As another reviewer has suggested, the accompanying notes in french and german do provide interestingly different perspectives. But what I find inexcusable is that neither of these, nor the text in english, offers any biographical or other information on the pianist. The title is "Brahms, Works for Solo Piano. Julius Katchen". That's it - Katchen dismissed! Despite there being two blank pages in the accompanying booklet and two more of irrelevant other releases by London, that is the only mention made anywhere of the artist. I find this not only irritating but offensive.

Julius Katchen was an American pianist who moved to post-War Paris at the age of twenty. He was the consummate musician with a broad performing repertoire; a very highly regarded soloist in his time - a time which included Rubinstein, Backhaus, Gilels, Horowitz, Moiseiwitsch and Solomon - and a very empathetic accompanist but whose achievements like those of Witold Malcuzynski are not so well remembered today. This set serves to redress the balance a little and introduce Katchen to a new generation who surely will appreciate what in my view is the best available recording of the fiendishly difficult Paganini variations. His recording of the Brahms Opus 24 Handel variations (which are up there with Bach's Goldbergs for sheer breadth of musical invention) also is one of the best.

I recommend this set very highly.

As an unconnected aside, some fifty years ago and quite by chance, I found myself sitting next to Katchen on an aircraft. I remember he had unusually expressive hands; a useful attribute as the noise level of the DC3 cabin militated against easy conversation! At the time, I was wrestling with the G minor Rhapsody and he was very generous with his advice (and a free ticket to a recital the following evening!). A charming man who died prematurely in 1969.

Buy this set - I can't imagine why you would regret it.
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on 13 December 2010
I must say I was amazed to hear Julius Katchen's playing. Totally unfamiliar for me until now, he was really a most important interpretator for Brahms' piano music. His extreme clarity in playing is truly a pleasure to hear, but more important, the visions he create especially in the piano pieces Opp. 76, and 116-119 are remarkable. Not to forget the early sonatas, or the extremely difficult variations. Katchen's Brahms is lyrical and feminine as well as powerful and masculine, but all the time intelligent and logical. Specific highlights for me are e.g. Capriccio in C sharp minor (Op. 76/5), Intermezzo in A (Op. 118/2), and the following Ballade in G minor (Op. 118/3). After hearing this recording one no longer questions why Brahms in his later life concentrated on short piano pieces rather than larger sonatas etc. Katchen plays to us these gems as if Brahms himself would be at the keyboard.
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This box will have the width of a finger on your shelf, but will provide you with endless hours of boundless enjoyment. Julius Katchen not only showed that he was a master of the Brahms piano repertoire in the 1960s, but London also awarded him amazingly realistic and faithful piano recording. The transfers to 6 CDs have been totally successful, amongst the very best in London's "Collectors' Edition" series.
If you have a chance to sample what's here, try the early Scherzo in Eb, Op 4, a wonderfully robust, powerful work, and the late Op 117 Intermezzi, reflective, reposeful works. You'll also find some of the brilliant sets of variations - masterpieces that are fiendishly difficult to play - and the complete sets of waltzes and Hungarian dances.
Vehemently recommended.
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I have owned this set, recorded by Julius Katchen for Decca between 1962 and 1965, for some time and return to it quite often. I do, however, think that this famous collection of recordings are ever so slightly overrated. As a very old Penguin Guide (1975 edition) said:-

"Katchen's style in Brahms is distinctive. There is a hardness about it that suits some works better than others. In general the bigger, tougher pieces come off better than the gentle Intermezzi of Op.116 and Op.117, which lack the sort of inner tension that Curzon or Kempff can convey. But such pieces as the two Rhapsodies, Op.79, are splendidly done, and so are the Ballades. The Waltzes, brief trivial ideas but on the whole extrovert, come somewhere in between. Katchen misses some of the magic with his uncoaxing style, but the brightness is still attractive. The recording of the whole cycle can be recommended in Decca's bright, slightly percussive manner of the mid-sixties."

I tend to agree with much of what was written nearly 40 years ago and do think that most collections would benefit from an alternative set or two of this collection of important piano works, whether "complete" or not. I have long enjoyed Peter Rosel's collection on Berlin Classics Piano Works (Rosel), Rubinstein, like Katchen, is better in some pieces than others Rubinstein plays Brahms - Sony Classical Masters, Martin Jones on Nimbus is a reliable guide Brahms: Complete Piano Music, and there are hundreds of individual discs to choose from, such as Grimaud's terrific Erato recital Brahms: Piano Pieces, and Markus Groh is splendid on Avie Brahms: The Late Piano Works, to name but two.
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on 24 August 2004
This is one of those sets that you will go on listening to for decades. Katchen was a great pianist, he was at his best in Brahms, and the recorded sound is excellent.
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on 7 August 2015
I tend to go with Messrs Elsworhy, Austin et al. above in giving these wonderful CDs a 5 star rating. I was one of those who thought that Brahms was a "four symphonies, four concerti, a couple of waltzes and a lullaby" man. How wrong I was! In his opening notes which accompany these CDs Jeremy Siepmann writes "The piano was never far from the centre of Brahms's musical life" and Katchen's superb recordings prove that point. (Another interesting snippet is that they almost make a soundtrack for Swafford's excellent biography of JB.) The recordings are crystal clear, Katchen's playing is, by and large, exemplary and the overall presentation is excellent. The CDs are well packaged and the notes are comprehensive. If you are as I was then get these brilliant CDs and find a Johannes Brahms who has been hiding in the shadows. You won't be disappointed.
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on 29 June 2014
I had in my collection much of Brahm's compositions. Watching Tom Selleck in"Jesse Stone" TV series he, Jesse, is berated by an elderly woman for being stressed and drinking too much.Her parting comment to Stone" I always play Brahm's when I feel stressed".
Jesse buys a 12" record and plays a delightful the solo piano work. Poor old Brahms doesn't receive a credit. .From that point on the music is the 'signature; of the series. Not recognising the piece and not having the work in my collection I purchased the complete piano works. A delightful set of works and recommended to all as being worthy of gracing any home.
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on 7 December 2014
Flawless playing from Katchen. A splendid issue and a worthy memorial. Brings out the subtle and symphonic elements of Brahms' pianistic style.
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on 3 October 2014
Said to be the best recordings of these works, available.
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on 16 June 2011
This is a wonderful set of recordings of some of the most enjoyable and interesting works in the piano repertoire.
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