Saturday, 12 July 2014

With a very fine original version of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto from Cyprien Katsaris and the legendary Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martins in the Fields combined with Katsaris’ own fascinating piano version, this is a recording to hear

There is a long history of arranging larger scale works for piano mainly from the 19thcentury when it was not so easy for people to get to hear performances. Liszt arranged all of Beethoven’s symphonies for piano though listeners in the domestic environment would have to have obtained the services of a very skilled pianist to perform them.

In the modern age, when we can listen to recordings of the great Viennese classics, the need for such arrangements is often questioned. Certainly I have had great pleasure from listening to recordings of the Beethoven/Liszt symphony transcriptions.

A new release from Piano 21  features pianist Cyprien Katsaris with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martins in the Fields playing Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto alongside Katsaris’ own arrangement of that work for solo piano.

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The opening orchestral chord to the Allegro of Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ is very direct and, when Cyprien Katsaris enters he is fluent but equally forthright. There is lovely pacing from Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields, bringing all his wisdom to bear in this performance, with beautifully turned phrases and sure control of dynamics. When he re-enters, Katsaris shows his lovely light touch and fine sense of dynamics. Both Katsaris and Marriner allow this music to breath, holding back, never rushing or barnstorming. Yet Katsaris’ performance never lacks momentum. There is a fine sense of continuity between Katsaris and the orchestra and, for all their forthright quality there are many individual touches. Towards the end there is terrific fluidity and interplay between soloist and orchestra.

The Adagio un poco mosso is a delight, with more lovely phrasing from Marriner and his players and some exquisitely sensitive playing from Katsaris, with many distinctive touches.

The Rondo: allegro ma non troppo shifts off at quite a pace with some fine, dynamic playing form the Academy. Katsaris brings some real fire with his flexible tempi, sudden surges, often restrained, sensitive playing. The coda is beautifully done.

This is a very fine Emperor concerto well recorded at the Henry Wood Hall, London.  

The most obvious difficulty in arranging a concerto for solo piano is that one is likely to miss the interplay between the soloist and orchestra. With Katsaris’ arrangement for solo piano of the Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ I found myself with terribly mixed feelings. Make no mistake, I really enjoyed Katsaris’ phenomenal playing but really felt the loss of interplay between soloist and orchestra.

At the commencement of the Allegro the ‘orchestral’ chords fit well with the ‘piano’ part. As the piano takes the extended ‘orchestral’ passage there are some fiendishly difficult passages where Katsaris adds ‘orchestral’ textures. This movement sounds faster than the preceding original version but the timing is only 40 seconds shorter. Perhaps it is the lack of breathing space for the pianist that gives the impression of greater momentum. However, Katsaris brings out some fascinating details of Beethoven’s textures. Midway some of the piano and ‘orchestral’ declamatory chords make a tremendous effect.

The ‘orchestral’ opening of the Adagio un poco mosso really does reveal much.  On occasions, the breadth of the piano ‘orchestral’ passages are beautifully done. However, the piano version of the orchestral part will always be a fascinating second best.

What a tremendous opening there is to the Rondo: allegro ma non troppo as Katsaris brings out both the piano and orchestral parts in a terrific performance, perhaps the most effective movement. There is a freedom here, with Katsaris never holding back in the ‘orchestral’ parts. Again there is some phenomenal playing from Katsaris where the term virtuosic is an understatement.

For all my concerns this is an arrangement that reveals much. Often, one can’t help having the feeling that something is missing – the orchestra of course.

Katsaris receives a fine recording from the Tonstudio Teije van Geest, Sandhausen, Heidelberg, Germany.

No one should underestimate Cyprien Katsaris’ tremendous achievement in his performance of the piano version. With a very fine original version with the legendary Neville Marriner and this fascinating piano version, this is a recording to hear. There are informative notes from Cyprien Katsaris.

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