Katie Mahan Plays Gershwin (Direct-to-Disc)

It takes nerves of steel and a healthy serving of humility to agree to record direct-to-disc a solo piano recital but that's what Katie Mahan signed on for here. The results are both musically and sonically rewarding. Mahan gave her first piano recital at age 6, having decided at age 4 that she wanted to be a concert pianist after attending a performance of Gershwin's "American in Paris". From her online bio:

"Since making her orchestral debut in 1999 performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Breckenridge Symphony, Katie has appeared in concert throughout the USA, Europe, Canada, the Middle East, Russia and Japan. She has performed with such celebrated conductors as Jiri Belohlavek, Marin Alsop – who described her as a pianist “in the style of Clara Schumann”, Grant Cooper, and Lawrence Leighton-Smith, among others, and in such famous halls as the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Prinzregenten Theatre in Munich, and the Smetana Hall in Prague. Katie has participated in master classes by such musicians as Lang Lang – who praised her as “a fabulous pianist…full of emotion and originality”– Simon Trpceski, and Michel Béroff, and has recently preformed with orchestras including the Prague Philharmonia, Colorado Symphony, West Virginia Symphony, Cheyenne Symphony, Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Boulder Philharmonic, Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra, and the Wiener Residenz Orchestra, among others."

This recording, produced by the same team that was involved in the Berlin Philharmonic's D2D Brahms box set was recorded in Berlin's Meistersaal, built in 1910 as a chamber music concert hall. The Steinway D piano was miked with a Josephson C700, and a Sennheiser MKE 212R, fed into a DGG vintage tube mixing desk and then to a Neumann VMS80/SX74 lathe and cutter head driven by an Ortofon GO 741 amp. If that sounds to you like a prescription for sonic beauty you would be correct!

"Rhapsody In Blue" was originally scored for two pianos and for a jazz band but is of course better known for the Ferde Grofé orchestrated version. Ms. Mahan plays her arrangement, which for most listeners will not present any big surprises. If you're familiar only with the orchestral edition you'll surely find this fascinating as your brain fights to add the orchestration. Best to let go and let Mahan's "suggestions" carry the piece.

Side 2 features an Earl Wild arrangement of "Embraceable You", Mahan arrangements of "I Got Rhythm" and "Our Love is Here to Stay" and "Preludes No 1, 2 and 3" based on improvisations of "Labéque", the duo of Katia and Marielle Labéque that Mahan saw at age 4 (referenced above) perform "An American In Paris". So she brings it "full circle" on this superbly recorded Gershwin program.

The piano sound is vivid and direct as only a D2D can deliver, with a rich surrounding reverb that cushions but never distracts from the main event. Mahan's performance is exuberant and not the kind of overly cautious, controlled take D2D sometimes produces in more cautious performers. There is at least one minor "clam" but that just adds to the concert hall reality of a live performance and good for Mahan to let it all hang out!

The key to enjoying this recording is to not play it too loud so you avoid creating a giant piano in your room. Dial it back and put the proper space between your seat and the piano and you'll surely enjoy listening often to this musical and sonic treat. The perspective is more the pianist's than the listener's but that doesn't detract from the listening pleasures of hearing a Steinway so richly reproduced.

It's a limited edition plated and pressed at Pallas and I'm not sure where you'll find a copy but Speakers Corner distributed and you can probably find copies on Discogs. It's worth finding. A reader says Acousticsounds.com has it!

rshak47's picture

I just ordered a copy from Acoustic Sounds. List price is $39.95, but I ordered some other items and got a 10% discount on everything plus free standard shipping.

mainaman's picture

I bought it several months ago,but my copy,somewhat unexplicably,was extremely noisy,so i had to return it.Otherwise the performance and the recording were top notch.Yes,it is close-miked and although it is probably not the most life-like sound-a very,very fine and thin unD2D veil was present in my setup,which could be attributed to the defective copy,the recording itself or my system(or all three factors),the grand piano is floating in front of the listener.In contrast,the recent vinyl release of the vintage Argerich/Chopin performance,crammed on a single lp,had a much more distant perspective and a decent transparency beneath the considerable amount of tape hiss.I would like to acquire the Nojima/Lizt release from Reference Recordings,but their organ one is next on my list.BTW,there are lots of D2D titles from Berliner and the UK-based Chasing the Dragon.And one-offs from other labels too;all recent recordings and still in press.