Most of the recordings on RCA's William Kapell Edition have seen the light of day before, albeit usually in less polished sound, but this 1953 recital from the Frick Collection in New York has never been issued before. Although edition performances up to this point featured fine remastered sound, this recital was the real revelation of the Kapell Edition. For as amazing as Kapell's other performances had been, this Frick recital is simply astounding.
It starts well enough with what must be the definitive recording of Aaron Copland's drowsy Piano Sonata, gets better with a couple of short but effective Chopin performances, turns on the heat for a sizzling "Polonaise-Fantaisie" -- and then Kapell really gets going. There have been several great recordings of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in the world: Horowitz's slam-dunk performance, Richter's take-no-prisoners performance, and maybe one or two others. And now there is Kapell's, a performance as exciting as Horowitz's but less haughty, as magisterial as Richter's but with fewer dropped notes, a performance of staggering virtuosity and stunning insights, and a performance that can meet Mussorgsky's impossible technical requirements and find the musical heights and depths in every note and the unity in the whole. If Kapell had left no recordings but this Pictures, he would still be one of the great pianists of the twentieth century. The two encores are short but sweet: a tender slice of Kinderszenen and a tart bite of Scarlatti. As great a piano recital as has ever been recorded; sublime.