An intimate evening in the grand manner

DistlerThu 2nd June 2011

A rare Manhattan treat to hear Cyprien Katsaris

The New York chapter of the American Liszt Society presented Cyprien Katsaris on May 25th at the mid-Manhattan Yamaha Artist Salon, where the pianist made has last New York appearance three years ago. It was an idiosyncratic recital from a programming standpoint, but it completely typified the pianist’s long-standing reputation for colossal pyrotechnics and fierce individuality. Announcing the first half’s all-Liszt selections from the stage, Katsaris opened with the Trauervorspeil und Trauermarsch, a brooding late period work, where the pianist’s pinpointed colouring of the stark bass lines created a haunting impression. He then followed by improvising, blending original themes and classical music’s greatest hits into a rambling, stream-of-consciousness, free form fantasy, replete with rapid runs, zither-like repeated notes, and the fastest interlocking octaves since Georges Cziffra’s heyday. Liszt’s Les Preludes, Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Borodin’s Polyvetsian Dances, Mozart’s Magic Flute, a Japanese Folk Song, and Westminster Chimes all figured in this madcap medley.
 
As soon as the improvisation concluded (I thought it would never end, frankly!), Katsaris barely paused for breath before launching into Liszt’s Seventh and Third Hungarian Rhapsodies, both served up with idiomatic flair and plenty of spontaneous flourishes. By contrast, the Allegretto from the Beethoven/Liszt Seventh Symphony stood out for Katsaris’ superbly varied articulation and subtle control of dynamics. Yet not even his focused and masterful rendition of Liszt’s transcription of the Sarabande and Chaconne from Handel's opera Almira could persuade me that this is a rarity worth reviving.
 
Chopin arranged his F Minor concerto in four versions: the familiar piano and orchestra original, a reduction for piano and string quartet, a two piano edition, and a particularly challenging solo piano reduction where two hands must accommodate both orchestra and solo parts. In 2010 Katsaris recorded all four versions for his Piano 21 label, and his performance of the solo version on the concert’s second half was most likely the arrangement’s New York premiere. Katsaris managed to differentiate the tutti/soloist textures as clearly as possible, and dispatched the intricate filigree with minimum rubato. However, his tendency to rush phrase endings where many notes are involved left an unsettled, slightly impatient impression, although the central Larghetto unfolded with plenty of breadth and repose. In any event, Katsaris rarely plays in the United States, and I relished the opportunity to hear him live in my hometown.

Distler

Composer, pianist, concert presenter and Gramophone contributor Jed Distler looks back, present and forward about the piano in our lives, and the lives of the piano.

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