Cyprien Katsaris’ Delightful Beethoven Odyssey

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

It’s not surprising that Cyprien Katsaris comes up with the most ingenious piano programming notion for the Beethoven anniversary year. He presents a six-CD chronological survey that intersperses original Beethoven piano compositions with chamber, orchestral, and concerted repertoire transcribed for solo piano by Beethoven and others. In the process, the pianist digs up fascinating rarities like the “Kreutzer” sonata for violin and piano reduced for 10 very busy fingers, Louis Winkler’s reduction of the “Spring” sonata for two hands, a delightful keyboard transformation of the Op. 3 String Trio, string quartet movements transcribed by the likes of Saint-Saëns and Mussorgsky, and Richard Wagner’s “de-orchestration” of the Ninth symphony slow movement.

As usual with transcription repertoire, Katsaris tosses off these pieces with maximum flair and minimum effort. Yet I also find his approach to so-called “non-hyphenated” Beethoven stimulating and often original. Once past the sober front he poses in the C minor Variations’ main theme, Katsaris flies out of the starting gate with Variation 1, but eventually gives way to normality after a handful of variations transpire. The pianist takes special care with the dynamic gradations in the Op. 14 No. 2 Andante’s detached chords, while his freshly minted voicings and points of emphasis in the “Moonlight” sonata never pull focus from the composer’s intentions. His angular phrasing in the Op. 33’s second Bagatelle imparts an extra kick to Beethoven’s sforzandos, and the cycle’s final Presto piece amounts to a master class in generating tension and excitement at the softest dynamic levels.

In this context, I would have expected a more dramatic and explosive Op. 111 sonata than the relatively contained and respectful rendition offered here, or a terser, harder-hitting Op. 78 finale. On the other hand, Katsaris truly lets go in the Op. 77 Fantasia’s bravura episodes, underlining the music’s apparent origins in improvisation. I encourage piano buffs and transcription mavens to join Katsaris in veering off of the conventional Beethoven path. Succinctly informative annotations from the pianist grace this fascinating and delightful release.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Beethoven: A Chronological Odyssey
Reference Recording: None for this collection

    Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 5, 10, 14, 17, 24, & 32; Bagatelles Op. 33; 32 Variations in C minor; Fantasia in G minor Op. 77; others
  • Cyprien Katsaris (piano)

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