As a great deal of unknown recordings keep emerging by William Kapell,
one work risks being presented out of context and without the objections it aroused in the pianist’s wife Dr. Anna Lou DeHavenon.
DeHavenon had studied piano with Tarnowsky, Vladimir Horowitz’s teacher. Once we attended a concert of Indian ragas performed by the singer Pandit Jasraj and sitar-surbaharist Imrat Khan. Never in my life had I seen someone listen so intently, deeply immersing herself into every tone. I asked her afterwards if she ever had advised Kapell and she demurred, saying that she would mention details. They first met when she came backstage to congratulate him after a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and made a few observations about his playing that turned him inside-out, struck by her acute perception and beauty. A good idea of her musical insight can be gleaned from an interview with her in 1995:
Once you knew DeHavenon, you could never have enough time with her and luckily an interview about her work as an urban anthropologist may be seen:
Soon after their marriage, Kapell was ordered by the martinet conductor Fritz Reiner
to prepare Richard Strauss’ Burlesque for piano and orchestra. Not knowing the work and confident that his own choice of concerto would be accepted as a replacement, he ignored the request until receiving a phone call from Reiner, confirming their 1947 date with the Pittsburgh Symphony a week later. Realizing that Reiner meant business and there was no way out of playing the work, Kapell spent a traumatic week forcing himself to learn a work that was not in sync with his aims. After a Russian-heavy focus imposed on him by his teacher Olga Samaroff, Kapell sought to spend more time with Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and others. Reiner knew the composer and often performed his works, making him a good ally for the piece but having to play it without the laborious preparations he usually devoted to all details in every work he programmed, the stress made it into a career nightmare.
Dr DeHavenon witnessed and tried to manage her husband’s anguish during a week of musical misery. The performance was recorded onto two discs: one was donated by the family along with his archive to IPAM (Interational Piano Archive, University of Maryland), but only half the performance seemed to have survived. One day while searching her Kapell papers, DeHavenon phoned to say that the missing disc had turned up and I was welcome to it. Eager to hear this one-time experience, warts and all, IPAM loaned their second disc and luckily it coincided at a time when Arbiter’s Sonic Depth Technology had been developed to rescue and liberate the sounds embedded within mediocre privately pressed broadcast discs. As this restoration is exclusive to us, we think best to offer the entire performance in this format, as most engineers favor a quiet vinyl-like playback that evirates the sound’s fullness.
When playing in the best of circumstances, with a simpatico collaborator like Maria Stader,
Kapell breathes his musical grandeur. He and Stader offered six Schubert songs at the 1953 Prades Festival organized by Pablo Casals. This blossoming of his art makes it all the more tragic as belonging to his last year, one in which he planned more absorption with the classics and his concern to pioneer new music. We hear them in Schubert’s Im Frühling D.882 (In Spring), taken from the spring of Kapell’s life.
©Allan Evans 2016