ALBUM D’UN VOYAGEUR: VOLUME 1: EUROPE • Cyprien Katsaris (pn) • PIANO-21 032 (75:50)
LISZT Allegro Pastorale. R. STRAUSS An einsamer Quelle. J. STRAUSS JR-SCHÜTT An der schönen blauen Donau. BRAHMS Hungarian Dance No. 1. KATSARISRead moreFree Improvisation on the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1. DVO?ÁK-KATSARIS Slavonic Dance, op. 72/2. HARRIS Piosenka o mojej Warszawi. PETYREK Zu Pressburg an der Donau. ELLER Andantino; Alla Ballata; Kodumaine Viis. SIBELIUS-KATSARIS Finlandia. HANNIKAINEN Suomalainen Kehtosävel; Debussyn Varjokuva. LEIFS Rímnadanslög No. 4. LATOUR Variations on Rule Britannia. RÖNTGEN Bergerette: Les Grandes Douleurs. ALBÉNIZ-GODOWSKY Tango. JAËLL Caprice brilliant on La Traviata. TRADITIONAL Kalamatianos. ECONOMOU Song of Freedom
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 8 in c, op. 13, “Pathétique”; 6 Ecossaisen, WoO 83; Ecossaise, WoO 86; 6 Kontretänze, WoO 14; Variations on a Waltz of Diabelli, op. 120/1, 13, 20 & 22. BEETHOVEN-LISZT Symphony No. 7: Allegretto. HÜTTENBRENNER Funeral Tribute to Beethoven in Chords; Erlkönig Walzer; 6 Variations, op. 2; Funeral Tribute to Schubert; Variation on a Waltz of Diabelli. SCHUBERT Variations on a Theme of Hüttenbrenner, D 576; 16 Ländler and 2 Ecossasien, D 734; Variation on a Waltz of Diabelli. LISZT Soirées de Vienne No. 2, S 427; Walzer, S 208a; Valse, S 210b; Ländler, S 211; Variation on a Waltz of Diabelli. SCHUBERT-LISZT Die junge Nonne, D 828; Erlkönig, D 328. SCHUBERT-REINECKE-KATSARIS Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished.” DIABELLI Sonatine, op. 151/1; Sonatine, op. 168/6; Sonatine, op. 168/7; Waltz. BEETHOVEN-DIABELLI String Quintet movement
In certain ways, these two enterprising and imaginative collections are polar opposites. Viennese Connections gathers together music by four composers all working in a given place at a given time (Biedermeier Vienna) in order to give us a rich and detailed sense of the texture of a particular artistic ethos. Album d’un Voyageur, in contrast, wanders over three centuries and 16 countries apparently in order to give us some sense of the broad range within which musical nationalism can operate. In many other ways, though, they fit together well. Both interleave “serious” art with more “popular” works, original works with transcriptions and adaptations, canonical items with pieces you’re liable never to have heard before. (Among the rarities is Petyrek’s setting of a Ukrainian folk song, Zu Pressburg an der Donau, with an astonishing similarity to the theme of Alkan’s Festin d’Esop.) And both collections are performed with the refreshing intelligence, wit, legerdemain, and variety of utterance that mark Katsaris’s maturity.
There’s no space for (nor profit in) a detailed account of each of the dozens and dozens of pieces on display here. Suffice it to say that from the granitic solidity of the Schubert-Liszt Die junge Nonne to the heartfelt sweetness of Strauss’s An einsamer Quelle, from the zest of the Diabelli sonatinas (their conventionality overridden by the pianist’s relish) to the graciousness of the Liszt Allegro Pastorale, from the utter simplicity of Eller’s Andantino to the key-smashing exuberance of Schütt’s Strauss paraphrase (a welcome alternative to the Schulz-Evler), Katsaris gives us an all-embracing tour. And while even he can’t quite convince me that the few harmonic swerves make Hüttenbrenner’s otherwise foursquare op. 2 Variations worth resurrecting, virtually everything else here brings its special pleasures.
High points? The “Unfinished” Symphony, where Katsaris brings out the splinters in Reinecke’s rough-hewn transcription to excellent effect (although I do wish, if only for historical accuracy, that he had given us Reinecke unadorned, rather than adding his own embellishments); Albert Harris’s deliciously tacky paean to Warsaw, played with just the right self-consciousness to keep it from turning tasteless; Liszt’s transcription of Erlkönig, a torrential onslaught that reminds us that Katsaris, for all his mellowing, has not lost the virtuoso smash of his earlier days; Finlandia, which starts with such a growl and continues with such monumental assurance that you hardly miss the orchestra; Jaëll’s Traviata paraphrase, decked with such finely wrought glitter that the music’s gestural banality barely registers. But that’s just this week’s list; the playing is so committed and so consistently inspired, and the music is so varied, that I’m sure with next week’s turn of the kaleidoscope, new favorites will emerge.
The production values are excellent. The Viennese album was recorded in the studio in 2009; the pieces in Album d’un Voyageur were taped at 10 different venues (some during live performances) over more than a decade, but everything emerges with immediacy and impact. And the notes for both albums, in English, French, and German, are extensive and detailed—sufficiently so that, once you’ve taken out the booklet, you may find it difficult to get it back into the jewel case. Warmly welcomed.