DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Cyprien Katsaris Live in Shanghai (2005/2010)

Not only a brilliant series of musical showpieces but a singular moment of connection between artist and audience.

Published on September 2, 2010

Cyprien Katsaris Live in Shanghai (2005/2010)

Cyprien Katsaris Live in Shanghai (2005/2010)

Program: LISZT: Trauer-Vorspiel und Marsch; Nuages gris; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 in E Minor; Czardas obstinee; Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude; Am Grabe Richard Wagners; WAGNER: Isolde’s Liebestod; GUANG: Silver Clouds Chasing the Moon; HALEVY (arr. Wagner): Overture to The Queen of Cyprus; SCHUBERT: Ballet Music No. 2 from Rosamunde (arr. Pauer); 3 Lieder; BACH: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (arr. Katsaris); CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major; GOTTSCHALK: The Banjo (arr. Katsaris); CARASCO: Adios; BACH: Prelude from Clavierbuchlein fur W.F. Bach – Performer: Cyprien Katsaris, piano
Studio: Piano 21 DVD P 21 034-N [Distr. by Allegro]
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: PCM stereo
Length: 104 minutes
Rating: ****

Recorded 4 October 2005 at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, this excellent recital by Greek virtuoso Cyprien Katsaris conveys not only a brilliant series of musical showpieces but a singular moment of connection between artist and audience. In two parts, the concert first presents us selected works by Liszt – many from his experimental last period – when his tonal world shows signs of collapse. The Funeral Prelude and March opened with left-hand ostinati and increased its tension until it burst forth in frenzied figures in modal harmonies. The bright middle section showed off the Yamaha CF111S to advantage, the sarcastic ringing effects and tremolos signifying a macabre victory. Nuages gris anticipates Debussy’s own grisaille Nuages, a study in grays in elusive harmonies lying at Schoenberg’s doorstep. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 allowed Katsaris the stalwart and melodic Liszt, the resolve firmly in the bass, the right hand melody singing over a cimbalom approximation. The first show-stopper, Csardas obstinee, exhibited quicksilver etude effects, 16ths and 32nds evolving into a gallop in broken figures, ornamented by Katsaris’ own demonic flourishes and rascally slides, a good cause to have adorned Katsaris with the mantle of Horowitz.

The poetic Liszt shone the Benediction of God in Solitude, an elongated nocturne from the collection of  harmonies poetic and religious. Noble, illuminated, polyphonically exalted, and even “liquid” in its distillation of inspired reveries, the piece commanded a palpable silence in the hall. The epilogue featured marvelous strumming effects from Katsaris. At Richard Wagner’s Grave proceeded as a dark chromatic meditation, bells tolling into a bitter whisper. Finally, Liszt’s arrangement of his son-in-law’s Isolde’s Liebestod, the arpeggios floating transparently in watery tremolos, a riff suggesting the “Evening Star” from Tannhauser. The erotic surge having begun, the music mounts and achieves “a consummation devoutly to be wished,” the ivy and the vine intertwined by crossed hands.

For Part 2, Katsaris spoke to the audience to introduce a Chinese piece by Ren Guang (1900-1941), his Silver Clouds Chasing the Moon, an impressionistic, chiming miniature in pentatonic bird calls and trills. The Halevy Overture (arranged by Wagner) shook with 19th Century melodrama, double notes often reminiscent of the more frenetic moments of Rossini’s William Tell, a potboiler promoted to a Lisztian warhorse. Schubert’s Ballet Music No. 2, popular for its martial gait and lyric trio, received contrapuntal and symphonic treatment. The Liszt arrangement of three songs: Staenchen, The Miller and the Brook, and Ave Maria each resonated with the original vocalism, now abetted by marvelous bass accompaniment and harmonization.

The last offering on the official program, Bach familiar Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, had not the Siloti arrangement but Katsaris’ idiosyncratic demonism, a fire and frenzy well reminiscent of the late Gyorgy Cziffra.  This same unabashed bravura permeated Gottschalk’s The Banjo, one of four encores a flower-wielding audience demanded of a charmed Katsaris. In the midst of “Dixie” and “Camptown Races,” Katsaris’ spidery hands seemed to consume the keyboard, especially in the overhead shots of his monster spans. Not since Leonard Pennario and Ivan Davis have we had such explosive Gottschalk. The first encore, Chopin’s tender Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2, sang in plaintive tones, a rendition as relaxed as the Bach Toccata and Fugue had been volatile. A tired Katsaris offered a piece by Mexican composer Alfredo Carrasco, “Adios,” as a not-too-subtle hint to his wild audience. But, it wasn’t until after the last piece, the Prelude written for Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedrich that Katsaris shut the lid on his Yamaha, an instrument that had well demonstrated the stellar prowess of its performer.

–Gary Lemco

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