Katsaris in Moscow: International Tchaikovsky Competition, 1970 = Works of CHOPIN, RACHMANINOFF, TCHAIKOVSKY, HAYDN, SHOSTAKOVICH

by | Apr 23, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Katsaris in Moscow: International Tchaikovsky Competition, 1970 = CHOPIN: Etude in B Minor, Op. 25, No. 10; LISZT: Transcendental Etude No. 5 “Feux Follets”; RACHMANINOV: Etude-Tableau in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 1; TCHAIKOVSKY: Autumn Song, Op. 37, No. 10; Dumka, Op. 59; BACH: Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor, BWV 849; HAYDN: Sonata No. 48 in C Major; SHOSTAKOVICH: Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, OP. 87, No. 24; RAATS: Toccata – Cyprian Katsaris, piano

Piano 21, P21 029-A, 55:17 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Cyprien Katsaris (b. 1951) decided to create his own label (launched 2001) based on his personal archives from public and private venues. This Vol. 21 takes its materials from the 1970 Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition, 1970. By the way, Katsaris did not make the finals that year, the Competition’s being won equally by Vladimir Krainev and John Lill.

From the First Round (3 June 1970), we hear an explosive Chopin Etude in B Minor, Op. 25, No. 10, whose bold octaves alternate with a wistful nocturne episode, only to rage in stormy figures once more in a demonic da capo at blazing speed. Liszt follows hard upon, but all the lightness and breezes of the Feux Follets, whose repeated double notes and broken intervals seem effortless for the young Katsaris (only nineteen at the time), whose playing abounds in extroverted brio and unabashed bravura, another Gyorgy Cziffra in the making. The C Minor Rachmaninov Etude-Tableau shimmers forth, resonant and oceanic in its galloping momentum. The piece soon achieves a monstrous obsession, its syncopations thrust forward in storm of fire.  How intimate in contrast does the Autumn Song of Tchaikovsky appear, its harmonizations wistful and sentimental in the acknowledgement of times past. The music of Bach finds elegant representation in the plangent Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor from Book I (No. 4) of the WTC, a piece conceived for The Little Klavier Book of W. F. Bach in 1720. The prelude proceeds in the form of an extended aria in statement and answer, the counterpoint in clear staccato figures from Katsaris. The fugue resembles a polyphonic motet in five parts, based on three melancholy subjects likely tied to the Stations of the Cross. If ever a cantata were compressed into solo keyboard form, this spiritual diptych proves the exemplar.

Katsaris finishes off his First Round appearance with a gracious charming rendition of Haydn’s galant jewel, the Sonata No. 48 in C Major from 1780. Rapid triplets mark the opening Allegro con brio, one of those perpetual-motion wrist-busters that emanate cheer and jaunty good will. Haydn’s Austrian spirit shines through in every bar, swaggering and limpid under Katsaris’ deft hands, the grace notes jabbing at us in playful irony. The Adagio presents us a contemplative song of equal girth as the first movement, but the clarion poise of the Alberti-bass figures often assumes music-box sonority, a pearl in every sense. All sorts of witty repartee marks the final movement, the off-beat metrics insinuating a weirdly lyrical court dance that would likely appeal to Prokofiev. A beguiled Moscow audience breaks out in rapture when this delightful piece ends.

The Second Round (12 June 1970) has Katsaris invoking thunder and bells in the magisterial D Minor Prelude and Fugue (1950) of Dimitri Shostakovich. The prelude wants the piano to attain an organ pedal sonority, the suspensions meditative and grimly anguished. The double fugue extends the somber homage to J.S. Bach, taking the  original second motif of the prelude down a fourth. The scale of the dark fugue becomes quite massive in crescendo, intricate, and chromatically somber, another of the Shostakovich austere threnodies for a fallen humanity. The Tchaikovsky Dumka in C Minor (1886), a Russian country scene, provides emotional solace in its opening ballade, despite its obviously bravura writing in the form of brilliant variations–Moderato con fuoco–and a bold cadenza that might have graced one of the piano concertos. The 1968 Toccata by Estonian composer Jaan Raats was the compulsory piece for the 1970 Tchaikovsky Competition participants. Rhythmic propulsion defines this eclectic piece, whose style embraces jazz riffs, wicked ostinati, and bold tone clusters. The music has similarities to Bartok’s Bulgarian rhythms and percussive aspects of Berio and Luigi Nono. Katsaris included the Boulez Second Sonata in his original program, but this reissue omits it.

–Gary Lemco


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