Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 2: for piano and orchestra
for piano solo
for piano and str qnt
for 2 pianos
(arr. Chopin, Ekier, Kami?ski, and Fontana)
Cyprien Katsaris (pn); Edvard Tchivzhel, cond; Queensland SO; Heidelberg SO Qnt
PIANO 21 038 (2 CDs: 121:46)
class="ARIAL12">Live: Brisbane 6/25/2010
Cyprien Katsaris is an eminent Chopin interpreter. I have enjoyed his recordings of the waltzes, ballades, and scherzos for Teldec, and his collaboration with Ofra Harnoy in the Cello Sonata on RCA. Now he gives us something truly special, the Second Concerto in four different interpretations. He bases the album on the premise that, in Chopin’s time, piano concertos were presented in four different versions: the original for piano and orchestra, one for solo piano, an arrangement for piano and string quartet or quintet, and finally a two-piano version with the orchestral part transcribed for the second piano. To render his endeavor even more interesting, Katsaris has recorded each version on a different make of piano. The subtle differences between each piano and each arrangement lend themselves to interpretations that are individual in every case. If the thought of hearing the same pianist play the Second Concerto four separate ways seems rather daunting to you, as it was to me at first, let me assure you that Katsaris has a mercurial enough musical soul to retain your interest throughout the album.
The set opens with the original concerto in a live performance featuring the distinguished Queensland orchestra, which can be heard on some fine Naxos CDs. Katsaris draws a sparkling sound in the first movement from his Hamburg Steinway. Tempos are brisk; Katsaris doesn’t dawdle over the melodies. The overall feeling in this movement is youthful, both in its energy and its passions. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Katsaris recorded a fine version of Schumann’s
Scenes from Childhood
for Teldec. The second movement offers beautiful bel canto, vocally inspired phrasing from the soloist. The runs embellishing the main theme are delivered elegantly. The orchestra appropriately here plays gently, with a lovely duet for piano and bassoon. Katsaris paces the final movement somewhat deliberately, offering a mixture of virtuosity and pensiveness—even subtle agitation. The principal clarinet and bassoon are a treat. Katsaris delivers a sense of ecstatic brilliance in the coda. In sum, this is a highly worthy version of the original concerto.
For Chopin’s own arrangement of the concerto for solo piano, Katsaris has chosen a Bösendorfer Imperial piano. It features an unusually wide dynamic range and great tonal resources. It has been captured in gorgeous sound by the engineers, one of whom is Günter Appenheimer, who produced so many fine recordings for Naxos in Bratislava around 1990. Katsaris has a penchant for solo piano versions of orchestral music; he was the first pianist to record all of Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Hearing Chopin’s orchestral tuttis on solo piano, one is struck by how much more flexible and expressive they can sound this way. This is especially true of the second subject in the opening tutti. Freed of the necessity to keep in touch with a conductor, Katsaris finds extra possibilities in phrasing. The first movement in particular becomes more dashing than with orchestra. Their absence also makes the pedaling sound clearer in the second movement. Chopin’s realization of the string tremolo passage there feels like a nocturne for solo piano. In the finale, the Bösendorfer’s tonal lushness creates a subtext of longing, that essential romantic emotion. The coda, however, does not sound quite as brilliant as it does on the Steinway.
Katsaris next presents a transcription of the concerto for solo piano and string quintet. This is a world premiere recording of the arrangement by the fine pianist David Lively, whose Brahms recital on Discover International I would recommend. Here, the accompaniment sounds more transparent than in the original. The fine string players are drawn from Thomas Fey’s excellent Heidelberg Symphony. The bite of the double bass has a particularly novel effect. For this performance, Katsaris has selected a Yamaha piano with a notably chocolaty tone. The second movement opens with a halo of string sound that leads to a luminous accompaniment. The piano’s tone here is appropriately warm. The tremolo passage from this movement sounds effectively gritty on five strings. The duet with piano where the cellist, Pirkko Langer, substitutes for bassoon is especially lovely. In the finale, the plummy bass of the Yamaha blends elegantly with the strings, particularly given the changes to the original’s bright trumpet parts. The cellist plays the horn call announcing the coda with relish. Katsaris’s interpretation of this movement retains all its brilliance.
Katsaris writes in his program note that Chopin enjoyed playing a second piano to accompany his students, not only in his own works but also in those of Hummel and Beethoven. To cobble together a two-piano version of the Second Concerto, Katsaris has drawn on three sources for the second piano part: Chopin’s piano solo version for the tuttis, the first movement accompaniment by the editors of the National Edition of Chopin’s works, and the accompaniment to the second and third movements by Chopin’s friend, the pianist and composer Jules Fontana. In this performance, Katsaris uses a piano new to me, that of Steingraeber & Söhne of Bayreuth. It has an unusually tart sound, which helps clarify hearing two pianos together. Employing technical wizardry, Katsaris has recorded both piano parts, which the engineers stitched together. The orchestral part is heard on the left-hand piano, the solo part on the right. The mass of these pianos’ sounds heard together is truly thrilling, given Katsaris’s virtuosity. Not just a technical stunt, he has conceived a rendition that blends the two pianos superbly. Given the Steingraeber’s tart tone, the slow movement here doesn’t sound quite so bel canto anymore—having more tension—but the orchestral part in the outer movements at times is thrillingly aggressive. The exchanges between the two pianos in the finale are exciting, and when they blend together at rapid tempos, Katsaris’s dexterity is a wonder to behold.
One must congratulate Katsaris for bringing out this project on his own CD label. I can think of very few record companies that would have been interested in it. The sound engineering in the string quintet and two piano versions is full and well balanced, while the live recording with orchestra, though clear, is a tad dry and up close. For the original concerto, I prefer the albums by Vladimir Ashkenazy with David Zinman and Witold Malcuzynski with Walter Susskind. Nevertheless, Katsaris has produced a unique collection that I would encourage every Chopin lover and piano aficionado to hear. I truly know nothing else like it.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 2 in F minor, B 43/Op. 21 by Frédéric Chopin
Cyprien Katsaris (Piano)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1829-1830; Poland
Date of Recording: 06/25/2010
Venue: Live Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts
Length: 120 Minutes 18 Secs.
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