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William KAPELL: I – Concerts n° 1 – 14 (JULY 18 – AUGUST 26)


TRIBUTE TO WILLIAM KAPELL: 70 years ago, William Kapell made his second Tour in Australia. The 37 concerts are listed for the first time. Here are the programs and reviews of concerts n°1 to 14. 

After his successful summer concerts at the Prades Festival, William Kapell and his family returned to the United States and most immediatly, he left for Australia where he arrived on July 11 to give 37 concerts (38 were scheduled, but one was cancelled), namely 20 recitals and 17 concerts with various orchestras. For the recitals he prepared 3 ‘standard’ programs which he used for 10 of them, while the 10 other recitals had specific programs. He was also invited twice to play in the ABC Studios for a progam named ‘Sunday Night Celebrity’. Since the tour was organised by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), many concerts were broadcast (for the recitals , it was only either the first or the second part), but ABC was legally binded not to keep recordings of the performances, and the live recordings that have been published come from recordings off the radio cut on 16’’, 33 rpm acetates by a single amateur from Melbourne,  Mr. Roy Preston, using a device made in Melbourne, named ‘Royce Senior Recorder. In the concert list, published recordings are marked by a *.

The Kapell concerts broadcast nationwide on either 2FC-NA or 2BL-NC Radio stations are found on ABC Weekly, whereas concerts broadcast only on local Radio stations are listed on local newspapers, and are difficult to find.

Most of the concerts were announced and also reviewed in the local press everywhere in Australia, so that, with the information published in the newspapers of that period, we have been able for the first time to make a list of these concerts. For only a few of them, it has not been possible to find the program that was played.

Kapell already toured Australia eight years before, and most of the music critics have recollections of his earlier performances. He had mainly a reputation as a virtuoso, but he was in the middle of the change he was determined to undergo with a view to becoming recognized as a ‘serious’ pianist, firstly by his joining the Prades Festival thanks to his friend Eugene Istomin, which allowed him to perform more chamber music, and work with musicians of different styles such as Grumiaux and of course Casals, and secondly by further thinking about his playing and adding new ‘serious’ works (Mozart Sonata K331, Schubert Sonata D.959, Beethoven Sonata n°23) to expand his rather limited repertoire. At the end of the tour, recordings with Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky were planned, namely the first two Brahms Violin Sonatas and also Trios.

However, the introduction of new works seemed to be a slow and difficult process: if the Schubert Sonata was part of his ‘standard’ Program n°2, the Beethoven Sonata n°23 and Mozart’s K331 Sonata were not scheduled to be played in the largest Australian cities. With this tour, he expected to be recognized for his efforts, and always the perfectionnist, he drove himself rather hard.

For more information, please read the two reference books: Tim Page ‘William Kapell A Documentary Life History of the American Pianist’ University of Maryland (1992), and Stephen Downes ‘A Lasting Record’ HarperCollins (2013).

01- July 18 MELBOURNE Victorian SO dir: Joseph POST (1906 – 1972)

PROKOFIEV Concerto n°3 – FALLA Noches en los jardines de España

Announcement of the concert / Broadcast of the 1st part of the concert / Picture of Joseph Post

William Kapell rehearsing (July 18)

The Argus (July 20): ‘William Kapell is the first contemporary-minded pianist to tour Australia… Public interest in contemporary and near-contemporary music has reached an all-time high. Mr. Kapell’s superlative performance in Prokofiev’s third pianoforte concerto on Saturday night was both an object lesson in modern keyboard technique and an overdue corrective in the idea that ‘new’ music must be rowdy or sensational – or both. In the sense that few living pianists have William Kapell’s automatic command of muscular reflex, the performance was more than sensational – it was possibly unique. At no time however was there a suspicion of mere gymnastic clevernes. Only the result registered. A rapier flash of rhythm, tone of incandescent brightness, mastery of bizarre color – these essential elements in fine Prokofiev playing were superbly coordinated. Imaginative support by Joseph Post and the Victorian Symphony Orchestra completed an interpretation memorable for its note of sophisticated fantasy’. Biddy Allen

The Age (July 20): ‘Since his previous visit to Melbourne eight years ago, Mr. Kapell has gained maturity and authority. Prokofieff’s concerto, written before he returned to Russia, is a genial work notable for a freedom of expression that the composer was not always able to achieve in later years. The striking things in this interpretation were the excellent relation between soloist and orchestra, and the full flowing richness of sound that resulted from the collaboration. This was music bearing every indication that the intention of its creator was being met’.

02- July 21 MELBOURNE TOWN HALL Program n°1

*BACH Suite BWV818 – *MOUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition – MOZART Sonata K.330  – CHOPIN Sonata n°2 Op.35

Announcement of the concert / Broadcast of the 1st part of the concert

The Age (July 22): ‘American pianist, William Kapell, opened his season of four recitals in the Town Hall last night with a program which, even though it introduced nothing new, proved to be vital and interesting. Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition had had a fairly good innings here from visiting local pianists and in the orchestral version. Last night’s audience could have be pardoned for thinking that there was little more to be got from it. But Mr. Kapell gave it something like a re-creation in one of the most arresting versions ever likely to come our way. Something more than brilliance went to its fashioning, and every picture was vividly alive and seeable. Equally compelling was the Kapell version of Chopin’s B Flat Minor Sonata (Funeral March) which, from the passionate and lyrical opening movements, gave us the well-known Funeral March in terms sombre and beautiful. Such a superb technician obviously likes to be busy. Maybe that is why his excursions into classicism were not so successful. His Bach Suite in A Minor was rhythmical and correct, and Mozart’s Sonata K330 somehow did not appear to be in the right company’.

03- July 25 MELBOURNE TOWN HALL Program n°2

*MOZART Sonata K.570 – *PROKOFIEV Sonata N°7 Op.83- SCHUBERT Sonata A Major D.959

Announcement of the concert / Broadcast of the 1st part of the concert

The Herald (July 27): ‘William Kapell, in his second recital in the Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday night, showed himself a pianist to be regarded with astonishment and considerable respect. Even for a critic who tends to be disinterested in executive brilliance, Mr. Kapell’s ability to deny the existence of technical difficulties is fascinating. And for those of us who are primarily interested in the real stuff of music, he had plenty to offer. It was impossible not to feel the driving intensity of his playing, the pressure exerted by the temperament of an uncommunly serious musician. Mr. Kapell is a too high-powered Mozart player for my taste. Yet, in the lovely B Flat Sonata, where a performer can so easily betray his superficiality, he was never found wanting. It was a finely cultivated playing, to say the least. If Schubert’s posthumous A Major Sonata fared less well, it was not that Mr. Kapell failed to approach the work with thoughtfulness and scholarship, but simply that Schubert demands a rather more relaxed and more lyrical style. The most exciting work of the program was Prokofeff’s Seventh Piano Sonata which was played with astonishing power and brilliance and with a shrewd and incisive sense of character’. John Sinclair

03bis- July 26 Sunday Night Celebrity (ABC Melbourne)

CHOPIN Sonata n°2 Op.35

04- July 28 MELBOURNE TOWN HALL Program n°3

SCARLATTI 4 Sonatas – COPLAND Sonata – *DEBUSSY Suite Bergamasque – *CHOPIN Barcarolle Op.60 – *Nocturne Op.55 N°2 – *Scherzo n°1 Op.20

Announcement of the concert / Broadcast of the 2nd part of the concert


Early in the tour, William Kapell arranged a meeting with Melbourne music critics in his suite at Menzies Hotel to play the Copland Sonata for them. Phillips, Dorian le Gallienne (The Age) and John Sinclair (The Herald) attended. All three were also composers. His wife Anne-Lou, who just arrived from New-York attended it, too.

The Advocate (August 6): ‘Between the exquisite perfection of Scarlatti’s craftmanship and the stark piano style of Aaron Copland, there can be imagined no wider contrast, yet Willam Kapell’s mastery enabled him to interpret each composer’s music with persuasion and authority. On Tuesday of last week, he began his piano recital with an indescribably fine performance of Four Scarlatti Sonatas followed by the modern piano sonata by the American Copland. The later work sounded harsh, unlovely, and at times uncertain, yet it had a certain power which Mr. Kapell’s incisive strength of tone and rhythm impressed on the listener. William Kapell’s interpretation of Debussy’s ‘Suite Bergamasque’ allowed the ear to revel in the delicacies of exotic chords and harmonies, while the imagination lingered over the subtle imagery expressed in the music. The playing of three works by Chopin Barcarolle Op.60, Nocturne in E Flat Op.55, and Scherzo in B Minor, were remarkable for the mastery of piano virtuosity and all tone colours and with their fire and poetry, these interpretations were worthy od one of the most expressive of all writers for the piano’.

July 30 MELBOURNE TOWN HALL [cancelled]

[BACH Partita n°4 BWV 828 – MENDELSSOHN 4 Songs Without Words – CHOPIN Sonata n°3]

Kapell was diagnosed ‘nervous exhaustion’ with muscular trouble in his back, shoulders, and upper arms, and he was obliged to cancel at the last minute. This was the only scheduled program with Bach’s Partita n°4, so it was not played during the tour. Happily, he recovered very quickly, in time for the first Adelaide recital two days later.

05- August 01 ADELAIDE TOWN HALL Program n°1

BACH Suite BWV818 – MOUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition – MOZART Sonata K.330 – CHOPIN Sonata n°2 Op.35

The Advertiser (August 3): ’In the Bach suite in A minor, a serene and lucid touch in the calm slow movements was hardened now and then with a trace of dynamic harshness and accentuation in the quick movements. For the massive chord passages of Moussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, the touch was clean, brilliant and powerful, and the sumptuous classic severity of the phrasing used in Bach was replaced by a rubato so personal that it might have seemed merely capricious if Mr. Kapell’s task and judgment had not made it sound musically right. Each of the little masterpieces of genre were played with a certain independence of tonal values and dynamic contrasts – the dynamic grading in ‘Bydlo’ for example and the climax splendidly made in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ – but a more brilliant and characteristic exposition cannot well be imagined. The scale of tone was right too for Mozart. In the sensitively played Sonata in C Major K.330, Mr. Kapell kept his playing within fairly narrow dynamic limits and was sparing with colors, but he invested his touch in the opening movement and the Andante with a kind of fresh natural bloom and for the Finale kept it clear and crystalline. The ‘Funeral March’ Sonata of Chopin was beautifully though not movingly played. Phrasing was as shapely as it was in Mozart, but here Mr. Kapell disclosed his range of touch from the singing quality untinged with sentimentality in the cantilena of the ‘Funeral March’ movement to the lissom, dry leggero in the weird Toccata-Finale’. Dr. Enid Robertson

06- August 04 ADELAIDE TOWN HALL Program n°2

MOZART Sonata K.570 – PROKOFIEV Sonata N°7 Op.83 – SCHUBERT Sonata A Major D.959

The Advertiser (August 5): Once again, at his second recital in the town hall last night, William Kapell made a sparely designed program of three Sonatas unsupported by lesser works continuously telling and absorbing. In works as conflicting as these three Sonatas by Mozart, Prokofiev and Schubert, he remained conspiruously master of his every fine shade and technique. As an artist, his approach to all three styles was also sympathetic and assured. He opened mildly with the deliberate and delicate grace of Mozart in a Sonata that hinted what Mozart might have achieved in this form had he lived long enough to develop its use of it more fully. For Mozart, externally deliberate perhaps, yet spiritually so elusive, the feeling was right and also the scale of tone. Mr. Kapell almost imperceptly lingers over and caresses with dulcet inflexion details which he plainly loves. In the slow movement, his pianissimo phrases were memorable and the sprightly Allegretto Finale he made vivacious and winsome. For the Prokofiev Sonata, an ashamedly dry ‘dog biscuit’ example of a notoriously ‘dry’ composer, he became a different pianist. The harsh bite to the opening of the Allegro Inquieto, the work’s brutal pianism, the Interlude of slightly commonplace lyricism in the slow movement, and the barren excitement of the Toccata-like Finale were disclosed with a ruthless, confident mastery which was exhilarating. The strength as well as the occasional weakness of Schubert appeared in the Sonata in A major, which Mr. Kapell played with affectionate warmth. In its authority, his treatment was also of the mind as well as of the heart. In the lyrical moments, he made the piano sing under his fingers. This and the significance of the pauses, the allusive touches reminiscent of Beethoven, and the articulate shaping of the phrases so as to retain significance of design throughout, made the performance ennobling and arresting. Dr. Enid Robertson

07 & 08- August 07-08 PERTH CAPITOL THEATRE

RACHMANINOV Concerto n°3 West Australian SO dir: Rudolf PEKAREK (1900 – 1974)

Announcement of the concert / Rudolf Pekarek

Sunday Times (August 9): ‘Nothing short of astonishing was last night’s performance of William Kapell. He played with the WA Symphony Orchestra at the Capitol. His was a performance of great beauty, tender in its phrasing, full of dazzling virtuosities and constrained to the tiniest details at the same time. Rachmaninoff’s floridly romantic style permeated with Russian lyricisms was fully evident in his magnificent Concerto no. 3. Kapell, the soloist, played it with dynamic effects as well as with moving warmth, never being too heavy or too brusque. He revealed all its gorgeous pianistic lines and heart melting romantic melodies impressing himself as a true virtuoso’. Dr B. V. Pusenzak


BACH Suite BWV 818 – MOZART Sonata A major n° K.331 – MOUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition – CHOPIN Barcarolle Op.60 – Nocturne Op.55 N°2 – Scherzo n°1 Op.20

It was Kapell’s first performance of the A major Mozart Sonata. He performed it instead of the scheduled C Major Sonata K330.

The West Australian (August 12): ‘The poet who resides behind Mr. Kapell’s waistcoat and who was allowed by Rachmaninov No. 3 to peep out only briefly at the weekend, took full control at last night’s solo recital in the Capitol. My goodness! How that poet has grown in the seven years since Kapell played here last! Kapell has developed from a brilliant young man into an artist who is even more brilliant where brilliance is in place, but who now grips imagination and heart with grand performances of mature power and outstanding artistic integrity. From first to last, no matter whither the programme led, we had that deeply satisfying evidence of proportion and balance, exquisitely expressed, which is one mark of a first class artist. And we had a constant assurance that with Kapell the composer comes first, that the performer never stands, with mere effect-making, between the composer and ourselves. The several dances which make up the Suite in A Minor by Bach sounded not as a conventional gesture to an Old Master but freshly beautiful, an offering brought with love and understanding. A Mozart sonata likewise was made by Kapell’s fingers to cast a spell of unaffected appeal. The Moussorgsky « Pictures at an Exhibition, » not heard here for a long time, call for a palette of tonal colours over a great range, for pianism, at times, of the most sonorous power, for the gift of romantic and pictorial evocation in a variety of forms. We cannot recall a performance which measured up to all this so splendidly as did Mr.Kapell’s. The poet in Mr. Kapell, never out of the picture, was strongly in evidence in the final Chopin group – a poet of infinite delicacy in the E Flat Nocturne, a strong, passionate poet in the « Barcarolle » and in the Scherzo in B Minor. The Scherzo, particularly, was fierily superb, with a lovely dream at its heart. In short, Mr. Kapell has become an artist whom we must place among the outstanding pianists of our experience over many years. ‘Fidelio’


SCARLATTI 4 Sonatas – CHOPIN Sonata n°2 Op.35 – DEBUSSY Suite Bergamasque – SCHUBERT 2 Impromptus – LISZT Hungarian Rapsody n°11

The West Australian (August 14): ’From his first to his last note, William Kapell swept us along with him again last night on his superb artistry. His is the sort of piano-playing which brings a work directly and freshly to the listener, stimulating and compelling him to enter into the life of the music. Last night we had such dissimilar composers as Scarlatti, Chopin, Debussy, Schubert and Liszt; yet each work was presented in perfect style and shape. With this comprehensive understanding and sensibility, Kapell combines a wonderful technique which is so controlled and undemonstrative that he can make the most brilliant virtuoso passages look deceptively easy. This was the case in the scintillating Scarlatti sonatas, executed with great precision and sparkling fluency, and in the seldom-heard Hungarian Rhapsody No. II, a typical Liszt composition of bravura passages and exciting climaxes. Rarely does an artist have such a range of tonal colourings at his command as that which Kapell showed us in his performance of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, a work of shimmering patterns and charming piquancy. And rarely do we hear Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor played with such whirlwind brilliance and exquisite delicacy, and with such a simple singing tone in the lyrical passages. It is a long while since we have heard such fine work’. P.K.


12 & 13- August 21,22 BRISBANE CITY HALL Queensland SO dir: Joseph POST

BEETHOVEN Fidelio Ouv. – BRAHMS Concerto n°1 Op.15 – HINDEMITH Mathis der Maler


14- August 26 BRISBANE CITY HALL Program n°1

BACH Suite BWV818 – MOUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition – MOZART Sonata K.330 – CHOPIN Sonata n°2 Op.35

Announcement of the concert / Broadcast of the Chopin Sonata n°2

The Courier Mail (August 27): An enthusiastic audience greeted William Kapell at his pianoforte recital in the City Hall last night under the auspices of the ABC. Mr. Kapell fully deserved the tributes paid to him, for I feel that he is one of the finest pianists whom we have yet heard in the City Hall. He has an uncanny capacity for adapting himself to the period and style of each composer whom he plays, so that his Bach gave a suggestion of the harpsichord for which the music was written. His Moussorgsky was full-blooded, and a little rough and uncouth; his Mozart smooth and polished with just the right touch of sentiment; while his Chopin gave him full scope for emotional playing. Opening with the A Minor Suite of Bach, his vigorous, incisive style at once set the atmosphere of the whole work, and his keen rhythmic sense made all the movements most compelling. Contrasting with the Bach, Moussorgsky’s ‘Pictures from an Exhibition’ enabled the player to produce all possible variety of tone and touch from the piano and to demonstrate that for him difficulties are non-existent. The Mozart Sonata in C major brought back memories of my own attempts in my student days, and my early realisation of the intense difficulty of playing Mozart in such a manner as to make every note occupy its exact place in the rhythmic and dynamic scheme. This was entrancingly beautiful. Kapell concluded the recital with a performance of the Chopin Sonata in B Flat minor, which includes the famous Funeral March, in a manner which was a veritable tour de force. It is to be regretted that he is not to be heard again in Brisbane’. Robert Dalley-Scarlett

Since one half of each of the three Melbourne recitals has been recorded (Kapell Rediscovered – RCA), this allows us to make our own opinion.

After a little more than one month of touring, William Kapell was not very happy with either the public ( there were often empty seats in the halls) or the music critics, but he was not prepared for what expected him with the further concerts in Sydney.

7 réponses sur « KAPELL: AUSTRALIAN TOUR JULY 18 – OCTOBER 22, 1953 – 37 CONCERTS – I/III »

Welcome back! Are you OK? Thank you so much for this detailed information about one of the greatest artists ever!



I wanted to deal with the Kapell’s 1953 Australian Tour, namely 70 years ago, but it took me a lot more time than I believed to obtain the information, so that I stopped posting for a while.

I think this will complete the information on the two available reference books by Tim Page and Stephen Downes. Especially, knowing what he performed at each concert, including changes and cancellations, brings a better understanding of how Kapell built up his programs for his tours.

Merci beaucoup.
La découverte de la publication en cd de ces acétates de concert, il y a une quinzaine d’année, avait été une extraordinaire surprise. Votre travail apporte un magnifique complément et permet de saisir au plus près la trajectoire pianistique de W. Kappel.

Merci. Et depuis, il y a eu d’autres publications d’inédits qui ont enrichi la discographie du pianiste.

Votre discographie permet en effet de prendre la pleine mesure du leg discographique.
À juste titre, vous attirez l’attention sur le 17ème concerto à Prades avec Casals.
C’est une perle qui illumine toute la discographie de l’oeuvre. Le désagréable sifflement de la bande et les bruits plus ponctuels ne doivent surtout pas rebuter car la prise de son de la radio est remarquable. Casals était particulièrement magnifique à la baguette dans les concertos de Mozart et cette rencontre redécouverte par Yves Saint Laurent devrait être davantage connue et célébrée… je ne me rappelle pas trop en avoir lu mention….avant de lire vos passionnants articles !

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