Cyprien Katsaris – Die Wahlverwandtschten = Works of BEETHOVEN, MENDELSSOHN, LOEILLET, RAVEL, WANG, Etc. – Piano 21

Cyprien Katsaris shows off his new Bechstein in a series of works that gravitate to each other. 

Cyprien Katsaris – Die Wahlverwandtschten = BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op. 84; MENDELSSOHN: Suleika, Op. 34, No. 4; SCHUMANN: Novellette No. 1 in F Major, Op. 21, No. 1; POULENC: Noveltte, No. 3; LOEILLET: Courante; GODOWSKY: Renaissance: No. 10: Courante; RAVEL: Laideronnette from Ma Mere L’Oye; WANG: Liuyang River; J. STRAUSS II: Wiener Blut, Op. 354; LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in a minor; FONTANA: Mazurka, OP. 21, No. 2; CHOPIN: Mazurka, Op. 63, No. 3; SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9: Chopin; VLADIGEROV: Passion from Impressions, Op. 9; GERSHWIN: The Man I Love; CHASINS: Prelude, Op. 12, No. 3; RACHMANINOV: Prelude Op. 23, No. 2; KATSARIS: Goodbyr, Mr. Rachmaninov – Cyprien Katsaris, piano – Piano 21 P21 055-N, 78:37 (10/7/16)[www.cyprienkatsaris.net] ****:

Drawing his inspiration from the 1809 novel by Wolfgang von Goethe, Die Wahlverwandtschten (“The Elective Affinities”), piano virtuoso Cyprien Katsaris (b. 1951) brings together those compositions – all of which have been arranged for piano, two hands – which resonate with kindred spirits, despite their variegated eras and cultural backgrounds. An admitted purpose of having selected “paired” or multifarious constellations of musically related pieces means to display Katsaris’ new Bechstein piano, “one of those wonderful instruments that allows the pianist even better scope for self-expression across the entire range of musical styles.”  The piano sound, accordingly, rings with colossal authority and often crystalline clarity, as in the charming Courante in e minor by John Loiellet of London. Katsaris offers several world premiere performances, including a “symphonic” rendition of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture – the transcription possibly by the composer – along with Eduard Schott’s arrangement of the Johann Strauss Wiener Blut and the exotic princess Laideronette movement from Ma Mere L’Oye for two hands from Jacques Charlot. Katsaris appears as composer-pianist in his own homage works, respectively to Chopin and Rachmaninov.  The expansive Merci Monsieur Chopin proffers a hybrid piece – part waltz, mazurka, and fantasy based on chords from the e minor Concerto – that well imbibes the Chopin salon style. The Goodbye, Mr. Rachmaninov salutes first Tchaikovsky’s The Months, then segues into a pastiche of chords that polyphonically resound with the Rachmaninov c minor Concerto.

The large solo works from Katsaris more than justify the price of admission: his Novellette in F by Schumann strikes the forthright, aggressive tenor from Florestan, Schumann’s virile persona. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in a minor, long having “belonged” to my favorite interpreters Mischa Levitzky and Gyorgy Cziffra, finds a true acolyte in Katsaris’ gypsy rendition. Katsaris plays Liszt’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s fourth piece from his Op. 34, Suleika, after Goethe. “Chopin” as he appears in Schumann’s Carnaval suite quite dallies with erotic possibilities. In response to the Loiellet Baroque dance, Katsaris exploits the Godowsky- ornamented response in his Renaissance Suite: the No. 10, Courante in e minor.  Since the e minor tonality appears to rule, the Jules Fontana (1810-1869) Mazurka, Op. 21, No. 2 should delight all in its recording debut. The Chopin counterpart, the Mazurka in c-sharp minor, Op. 63, No. 3, ought to invite Katsaris back into the recording studio for more examples of his subtle knowledge of Chopin agogics, many of which tormented Meyerbeer’s notions of metric accuracy.

The relatively unknown Jianzhong Wang (1933-2016) has a water piece, Liuyang River, to complement the Ravel exotics. Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978) proffers a richly harmonized nocturne in “Passion,” from his Op. 9 Impressions, a piece much in the Rachmaninov or early Scriabin style. America’s great melodist, George Gershwin, has but one offering, “The Man I Love,” in his own torch-song arrangement. Abram Chasins (1903-1987), better known for his Rush Hour in Hong Kong, offers a jazzy, potent Prelude in b-flat minor that radiates the Rachmaninov influence. The tonic major strikes a potent affect in Katsaris’ Prelude in B-flat Major from Rachmaninov himself, lusty and nostalgic at once. I can locate no credit for the recorded engineering, but the sonic presence remains quite close, and we can hear the keys themselves as their action receives Katsaris’ gifted fingers.

—Gary Lemco

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