Cyprien Katsaris plays THEODORAKIS = KATSARIS: Grande Fantaisie sur Zorba – une Rhapsodie Grecque; Improvisation spontanee sur des chansons de Theodorakis; THEODORAKIS: No. 7 from 11 Preludes, AST 44; No. 5 from 12 Melos, AST 541; Petite Suite for Piano, AST 90 – Cyprien Katsaris, piano – Piano 21 P21 057-N, 78:17 (12/5/17) [www.cyprienkatsaris.net] ****:
World-premiere recordings by Cyprien Katsaris celebrate composer Theodorakis, whose music for Zorba rings with boundless energy.
Cyprien Katsaris (b. 1951), expressing a desire to celebrate his Greek heritage overtly and passionately, embraces the music of Mikis Theodorakis (b. 1925), composer of over 1000 songs, and whose scores for such films as Zorba the Greek and Serpico continue to inspire both music-lovers and serious musicians. In his accompanying notes, Katsaris traces the etiology of his Zorba Fantaisie (after the composer’s own ballet), which evolved slowly, even painfully, mostly between 2005 and 2007, but he completed the project only in the spring of 2017. While Katsaris first intended a keyboard work in the manner of Liszt, a rhapsody of some 15 minutes’ duration, the breadth of the project assumed a monumental course of its own.
The Grande Fantaisie, an epic composition that lasts 53 minutes, seems to owe more debts to Busoni than to Theodorakis, and we might well wonder how often Katsaris expects fellow pianists to acquire the score for their repertory, considering it rivals Bach’s Goldberg Variations for scope and Busoni’s Fantasia Contrapuntistica for level of difficulty. We might recall one of the premises of the Kazantzakis novel, that life comprises a dance of both comic and tragic proportions, and that books merely recount the agony of men who cannot answer the existential questions. In his indignation at the pointless death of a beautiful woman, Dionysiac Zorba cries to the Apollinian Englishman Basil, “I spit on your agony!” There pass by sweeping dance sections that sing, declaim, and thunder in voluptuous defiance, given the resonant—even ‘orchestral’—power of Katsaris’ Steinway D Hamburg, recorded at the Eglise Evangelique Saint-Marcel, Paris by Recording Engineer and Editor Nikolaos Samaltanos. In its percussive, layered moments, some of the writing resembles the thick, manic textures in the Prokofiev G Minor Concerto. After all, to quote Kazantzakis, “a man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope to experience freedom.”
The ensuing “Spontaneous Improvisation” on Theodorakis’ popular songs does fulfill the intention to provide 15 minutes’ of music that quote directly from Myrtia, To Yelasto Paidi, Ti Romiosini Min Tin Klais, Agapi Mou Phaedra, Sto Periyali, To Kryfo, and Doxa To Theo. The style of the work, as much as it moves in a rhapsodic manner, owes debts to Chopin, especially his own Fantaisie in f minor. There are moments of ecstatic singing and sheer bravura, with repeated notes, military marches, and tremolandos that take their cue from Liszt. As in the Grande Fantaisie, there are echoes of the cimbalom and percussion, along with moments of pure, salon or café style. Some pungent dissonances lead to a splashy coda that sums up much of the diversity in the composer’s musical persona.
Katsaris adds short, selected pieces by Theodorakis that indicate a Greek doxology and natural, lyrical facet to his many-stringed harp. The ostinato bass line of the Melos invests a shimmering luster and tragic tint to its progression. The four-movement Petite Suite rings with sonorous elements we credit to Bartok and Joplin, at once. The third movement, Allegro molto marcato, clearly presents an etude that seems to cross Prokofiev with Khachaturian. The last movement, Andante mosso, compresses much of the Zorba life-energy in insistent and impulsive gestures that resound with the rawness of a culture that knows the omphalos of Life.