ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
FRANZ LISZT - Katsaris plays Liszt Vol. 1


FRANZ LISZT - Katsaris plays Liszt Vol. 1 - Cyprien Katsaris (Piano) - 2CD Set - 3760051450496 - Released: January 2012 - Piano 21 P21041N

1) Rhapsodies Hongroises Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 5
2) 2 Elégies
3) Notturno No. 3 "Liebestraum"
4) Klavierstück No. 2
5) Klavierstück Nos. 1-4
6) Klavierstück No. 5 "Sospiri"
7) Piano Concerto No. 2 (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin - Arild Remmereit conducting)
8) Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch
9) Unstern! - Sinistre
10) Nuages Gris
11) La Lugubre Gondola No. 1
12) La Lugubre Gondola No. 2
13) R. W. - Venezia
14) Am Grabe Richard Wagners
15) Piano Sonata in B minor

More and more these days it seems that "pianists" come and go quickly, picked up by labels and ushered in as the next big thing, only to fade out as rapidly and quietly as they came in. It's not that they lack the technical chops. Quite the contrary, they all play like finely calibrated machines, but that kind of execution gets boring after a while. They all sound like clones of each other, and because they don't leave a distinct musical impression, they get lost in the crowd. On the other hand, Cyprien Katsaris has been on and off the stage, and in and out of recording studios over the last 40 years or so, leaving behind some impressive recordings for some of the major classical music labels in the past, and more recently re-releasing most of them along with new recordings on his own record label, Piano 21. One of his major achievements, as some of you will undoubtedly remember, was a top notch interpretation of the Liszt piano transcriptions of all the Beethoven symphonies, recorded for Teldec in 1987 and still available today. Were it not for Idil Biret who released her own set for EMI in 1986, the Katsaris recording would have been a first. Only two other pianists ever dared to tackle such a monumental task, Leslie Howard for Hyperion and Konstantin Scherbakov for Naxos.

All of this simply to say that the longevity of the recording career of Cyprien Katsaris can be attributed to the fact that he is not only a "pianist", he is also a musician. (No they are not the same thing, there is a big difference between the two). His playing evokes, it tells a story, it speaks the composer's language. Take for example his approach to the ever popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. He doesn't beat the *$#! out of the keyboard like most have a tendency to do, but instead brings an uncanny level of delicacy to the music. Do you know how difficult it is to play something very fast delicately? It demands a level of control that only tenacious work will master. He toys with the music, has fun with it, and brings out its "gypsy", its "improvised" nature, better than most. At the other emotional extreme reside Nuages Gris and La Lugubre Gondola, written during Liszt's final years. Dark, sinister, wisely profound. Pointing a bony finger towards music's harmonic future. Again Katsaris doesn't merely see them as notes on paper. He shares within them the composer's drive to explore music's metaphysical properties, along with a deep regret at the loss of a great musical tradition drifting away at the death of Richard Wagner in 1883. A great tradition completely encapsulated within a single piano piece, Liszt's own Piano Sonata in B minor. Philosophical, hyper-romantic, music expressing beliefs and ideals well beyond its realm. And again Katsaris, even back in his early 20s when this performance was recorded, sees it as something bigger than life, as a visionary statement on human existence, all of which expressed by two human hands. A piece of music that transcends the instrument it was written for and soars aloft, held there by its own power.

The recordings found on this 2-disc set cover almost 40 years, and originate from various sources including live, studio and private takes. Therefore an adaptive ear is required when listening to everything from start to finish, but even the 1973 private mono recording of the Sonata can't detract from the fact that this is music making at its best.

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2012