Cyprien Katsaris: Viennese Connections = Works of BEETHOVEN, SCHUBERT, DIABELLI, LISZT, HUETTENBRENNER – Piano 21 (2 CDs)

Cyprien Katsaris: Viennese Connections = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique”; 6 Ecossaisen, WoO 83; Ecossaise, WoO 86; 6 Contredances, WoO 14; Allegretto from Symphony No. 7 (trans. Liszt); Diabelli Variations, Op. 120: Nos. 1, 12, 20, 22; String Quintet movement (trans. Diabelli); HUETTENBRENNER: Funeral Tribute to Beethoven in Chords; Erlkoenig Walzer; 6 Variations, Op. 2; Funeral Tribute to Schubert; SCHUBERT: Variations on a Theme by Anselm Huettenbrenner, D. 576; 10 Laendler and 2 Ecossaissen, D. 734; Die junge Nonne (trans. Liszt); Erlkoenig (trans. Liszt); Symphony No. 7 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished” (trans. Reinecke/Katsaris); DIABELLI: 3 Sonatinas; Waltz with Variations by Huettenbrenner, Schubert, Liszt; LISZT: Soirées de Vienne No. 2; Walzer, Valse and Laendler, S. 208a-211 – Cyprien Katsaris, piano – Piano 21 P21 033-N (2 CDs) 78:53; 74:39 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris continues his personal odyssey through his selected keyboard repertory restricted to Beidermeier Vienna, here including several world premier recordings, such as his blistering reading of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony in the Liszt transcription. Passionate and gloomy, the piano transcription conveys much of textural color that we well know from the symphonic version, but the piano provides a stark–often potently percussive–quality that increases the uneasiness in Schubert’s dark vision. Perhaps the grueling keyboard version reveals just how hard would be any sort of addition to the extant two movements. The Erl-King transcription has Katsaris’ staccati hammered like machine gun bullets under a seductive melodic line, especially as the grim demon seduces the ailing lad to his fatal kingdom.  A friend of Schubert, Anton Huettenbrenner (1794-1868), rarely dominates a conversation on 19th Century music, but his small contribution to Viennese invention we duly note through Katsaris’ ministrations.

Katsaris opens with a Beethoven group, of which the Pathetique Sonata emerges powerfully and songfully, the opening movement often pointing to the Wagner “influences” that saturate Tristan und Isolde. The witty Scottish Dances remind us that pianist Andor Foldes traversed these pages two generations ago. The Allegretto from the Seventh Symphony–even from the master Liszt–has not the graduate power of the orchestral version, but it makes yet an affecting vehicle for the tragic muse. The set of contradances entails our hearing the Eroica last movement tune that likewise serves the incidental music for the keyboard variations of Op. 35 and the Prometheus Ballet. We know well Beethoven’s connection to Anton Diabelli (1781-1858), whose peppy little waltz became a subject for variation by fifty composers for an edition published in 1824. Katsaris performs three sonatinas–in G Major, G Major, and A Minor–whose easy charm reminds us of young Beethoven, albeit less imaginatively a slave to the Alberti bass. The latter two sonatinas prove a bit more substantial, as regards length and invention, although they rarely exceed anything even mediocre by Mozart, Haydn, or Beethoven. The A Minor’s first movement rather suits music for a silent film, perhaps an emotional scene between Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess. Huettenbrenner’s variation on the Diabelli waltz turns out to be rather knotty and compelling. Schubert converts the waltz into a rocking laendler. The Liszt becomes a finely honed etude that skitters in brisk motion. Four Beethoven entries provide girth and Homeric humor, the latter in the form of the “Notte e giorno faticar” from Mozart.

Schubert takes a theme from Huettenbrenner’s Quartet, Op. 3 for his set of thirteen variations that closely resembles both the Beethoven Seventh Allegretto motto and the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet slow movement.  The penultimate variation in syncopations will suggest that Brahms knew this work, since its facility enters his own Variations on a Theme by Haydn.  The 16 Laendler and Scottish Dances reveal Schubert’s capacity for unending streams of deliciously glittering melody, and he does not require Stokowski’s strings to effect the magic! Katsaris’ light touch adds to the beguilement.  The sonority changes radically when Liszt transforms Schubert’s own tunes to more salon bravura purposes in the second Viennese Soiree, the rhythms now crackling and the melodies more ardent. Two brief Liszt pieces more, and we conclude with Schubert’s faithful pilgrim, The Young Nun, in a wondrously liquid transcription that well communicates her devotion and affirmation in the midst of a storm.

— Gary Lemco

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