Cyprien Katsaris: Piano Rarities, Vol. 2: French Composers [TrackList follows] – Piano 21

by | May 1, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Cyprien Katsaris: Piano Rarities, Vol. 2: Compositeurs francais = MEREAUX: 5 Etudes; SEVERAC: Ou l’on entend une vieille boite a musique; NOEL-GALLON: Le petit mendiant; GALLON: Theme varie; PLE-CAUSADE: Le chant du patre; DAMASE: Dedicace; LAUBRY: Prelude No. 4; TARDIEU: Piece pour piano; BERTHELOT: Valse lointaine; WIENER: Polka lente; LAVIGNAC: Galop-Marche a 8 mains sur un seul piano; KATSARIS: Improvisation libre sur des musiques de film et sur “Feuilles mortes”; SOGNY: 3 Etudes; BLET: Sonate “Renaissance”; CLAOUE: Rengua 2 for Flute, 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, String Quintet and Piano –  Cyprien Katsaris, piano/ Salzburg Ch. Philharmonic/ Yon Kuk Lee – Piano 21 P21 037-N, 78:35 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Cyprien Katsaris has assembled a diverse collection of French virtuoso keyboard works from selected venues, 1998-2009, that captures the fecund imagination and daunting technical prowess that inhabit an entire sensibility. Five of Sixty Grandes etudes en caprices caracteristiques dans le style libre et dans le style severe by Amedee Mereaux (1802-1874) set the tone: a true contemporary of Chopin living in Rouen, Mereaux studied with Reicha and Clementi, and his etudes reveal an honest lyrical gift that subsumes huge spans and independence of the digits in the course of traversing the keyboard’s possibilities, a legacy that connects Chopin to Alkan, Liszt, and Godowsky.
The delicate musical box by Deodat de Severac (1872-1921),  a composer whose music I found on the piano stand in the office of composer David Diamond at Juilliard, proffers an ethereal ostinato under an elusive melody. A Picardy third lends an air of antiquity to the Noel-Gallon Le petit mendiant. Jean Gallon (1878-1959) provides a Theme varie that synthesizes Faure and Schumann rather brilliantly. Jean-Michel Damase (b. 1928) dazzles with light in his Dedicace, a work that treads a fine line between Debussy and Poulenc. The Prelude No. 4 by Jean-Jacques Laubry (1916-2001) is on of a set of twenty-four, this expressive and supple in a manner derivative of the mighty Chopin. Of a more recent vintage, the Piece pour piano of Jacob Tardien (b. 1975) involves a “minimalist” series of movie-music repetitions but without their losing our interest in the bittersweet nostalgia rendered by Katsaris. Rene Berthelot (1903-1999) served French musical education for many years in Orleans. His Valse lointaine looks perhaps to the stylized dance of Ravel to combine wistfulness and gentle irony.
Katsaris renders two characteristic pieces by Jean Wiener (1896-1982), the pianist of the famed Boeuf sur Le Toit bar, named after the raucous ballet work of Darius Milhaud. The Polka lente is to French music what Rachmaninov’s Polka de W.R. is to Russia. Java swirls and cavorts in irreverent figures, jazzy and off-kilter Viennese. The circus piece Galop-Marche a 8 mains sur un seul piano by Albert Lavignac (1846-1916) has two pairs of four hands –Frank Braley, Francois-Joel Thiollier, Alexei Volodin, and Cyprien Katsaris — in a flurry of notes in wild leaps and blazing runs a la Gottschalk and Offenbach, much to the audience’s delight.
“Do you like French movie music?” queries Cyprien Katsaris (1 November 2008, in Hyogo, Japan), just before he realizes the lovely tune by Georges Auric for Zsa Zsa Gabor in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge. He segues into Francis Lai’s Un Homme et une Femme, then directly into Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves. Katsaris achieves his piece de resistance by combining themes from Michel Legrand scores for Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Katsaris certainly proves himself a fine piano-bar artist, not to mention a career at the keyboard accompanying silent cinema.
Composer Michel Sogny (b. 1947) provides Katsaris with four etudes in Liszt/Hungarian style, the gypsy element quite obvious in the Andante – Vivace, No. 2 from Book I, taken directly from the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 12. Sogny had been a close friend of Gyorgy Cziffra, another pianist whose virtuosity embraced gypsy elements with decided relish. The larger Reminiscentiel combines ballad and fantasy in a manner akin to Faure.
Stephane Blet (b. 1969), a piano pupil of Byron Janis, retired from active performance in 1992 to devote his time to composition. Sonata No. 4, Op. 40 “Renaissance” (2001) is dedicated to Cyprien Katsaris. It mood embraces both Berg and Scriabin, modal and percussively animated, respectively. The bravura writing makes the piece a toccata, perfectly suited to competition venues. Yves Claoue (1927-2001) conceived Rengua-2 (1998) for Cyprien Katsaris, especially sympathetic to Katsaris’ traversal of the complete Mozart concertos in Salzburg and Vienna. If Mozart had been Japanese or had written music for Kurosawa, the Rengua poetic form might have fulfilled his purposes. Composers like Frank Martin, Stravinsky, Varese, and Boulez may have influenced its gauzy piano-orchestral style; but the “detached” effect of space and time reminds me of those moving sands from Woman in the Dunes.  Best to take this eclectic disc in small but savory doses.
—Gary Lemco

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