Classical Music Guide Forums - Monday, July 16, 2012 - Written by Donald Isler

Cyprien Katsaris

Program
Schubert – Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915
Schubert – Pieces No. 1 in E-Flat Minor and No. 2 in E-Flat Major, D. 946
Beethoven – Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13, “Pathétique”
Liszt – Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Liszt/Katsaris – Concerto No. 2 in A Major for piano solo

Last year Cyprien Katsaris’ recital reminded me of Earl Wild’s ability to balance being an artist as well as an entertainer. This evening I was thinking, instead, of Shura Cherkassky. Cherkassky was probably best known as a wonderful interpreter of Romantic music. But he played everything, from Bach to Stockhausen. And he was a particularly fine Bach player.

The name of Cyprien Katsaris may also be most commonly associated with the music of Liszt, and the other Romantics. But he’s such a magnificent pianist, and such an incredibly musical man, that one is grateful he plays other music, too.

After coming on stage at the beginning of the evening and asking those who intended to make pirate (illegal) recordings of the concert to turn off their machines (“I know you may not do this, but thank you for considering it!”) he gave a very beautiful, almost chaste performance of Schubert’s C Minor Allegretto. And, already, he started to show off some of the unusual things he likes to do. Where Rachmaninoff liked to refer to the (melodic) “pinky soprano” he sometimes emphasized the “alto thumb.” Very effectively.

The first two pieces from the Three Piano Pieces of D. 946 were also impressive. Though he often seems to be impatient (ie. he likes to move quickly from one work to the next), when he finds a color or feeling he likes he lingers there lovingly, and time all but stops. The “Venetian gondola song” effect which he found in the A-Flat section of the first piece was wondrous. As was the return from the fast sections of the second piece to the calm, simple and comforting main theme.

His performance of the Beethoven Sonata was also very satisfying, if a bit unorthodox. He played the first movement at a terrific clip, but, especially as he did not need to slow down for the cross hand sections (which pianists often claim to do for expressive reasons, though they really do it to make things easier!) the effect was bracing. And, who in the audience, before hearing Mr. Katsaris play the slow movement this evening, knew that it contains a middle voice “trumpet call?” Probably no one. But Mr. Katsaris found one!

The last movement was a wonderful romp. At one point he played some phrases a bit louder just because, I think, he felt like it. And it worked. To tell the truth, his Beethoven playing is fresher, and often preferable to that of some Beethoven “specialists.”

Before playing Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude he recited the poem on which it is based in French from memory, and then read an English translation. Aside from easily handling all the challenges of this work Mr. Katsaris indeed conveyed its spiritual nature in sections that were calm, majestic, glittery, brilliant and, at all times, tonally gorgeous.

What can one say about Mr. Katsaris’ transcription of the Liszt A Major Concerto? It was an amazing tour de force, using, it seemed, almost everything in his huge technical arsenal. That, and, at times, a sound big enough to fill in for an entire orchestra, not surprisingly, led to the standing ovation which greeted him at the end.

Still not tired, the energetic Mr. Katsaris (who stood outside the building after the concert for quite some time, speaking with his admirers) played one encore, the lovely, rather Rachmaninoff-like Prelude Op. 33, No. 7 by Bortkiewicz. It was wonderfully played, and a fitting end to a most impressive evening.


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