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Christos Tsitsaros

Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Centaur Records   Catalog #: 3174  
Composer:  Christos Tsitsaros
Performer:  Christos Tsitsaros
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TSITSAROS Cahier Tango. Piano Sonata. Tango Apasionado. Concert Transcriptions of American Songs Christos Tsitsaros (pn) CENTAUR 3174 (56:22)

The music of Christos Tsitsaros has a deceptive simplicity about it … or, perhaps more accurately, it is easy to hear but subtle in construction, much like such pieces as Debussy’s Clair de lune or Golliwog’s Read more Cakewalk, Beethoven’s Für Elise, or Schumann’s Träumerai. Each of those pieces, like the music of Tsitsaros, has an essential simplicity of form as well as being accessible to medium-level piano students, yet the music gains immeasurably in impact from being played by a superior artist.

In the 12 Character Tangos, a great deal of the difficulty arises not from the actual notes on the page, although Tsitsaros nearly always throws in some unusual harmonies to mix things up a bit, but from the subtle rhythmic alterations within each piece. The third piece, marked Tango Capricho, is not really jazz but has the same kind of swagger as Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Joys, while others in the series (Nos. 5–8) are actually in milonga rhythm, which is slightly different from the tango, being based on the habanera, which was the parent of both dances. (One can easily tell the difference by comparing Milonga Criolla to Tango Capricho. ) By and large, Tsitsaros has a more energetic approach to this type of music than did Polly Ferman in her album on Roméo 7202, but both are valid. Much to my surprise, the last four pieces in this suite are actually waltzes, albeit Spanish rather than Viennese waltzes. The tempos are quicker, and in some (such as Valse de Mai ) Tsitsaros plays off-the-beat and between-beat figures against the slightly nudged fast waltz rhythm.

Despite the piano sonata bearing a dedication to “Maître Aldo Ciccolini” and being considerably more difficult technically than Cahier Tango, the music here also bears a strong resemblance to popular song and dance rhythms and construction, more sophisticated to be sure but not that far from the tree. Tsitsaros describes it as “a large-scale three-movement work, loosely based on the traditional sonata form,” but compared to even some of Beethoven’s earlier sonatas it’s pretty short, running only 16 minutes. Of course, length has nothing to do with quality or vice-versa, and this is certainly piquant as well as entertaining music. (One wonders if Ciccolini liked it as much as the music of Erik Satie.) The first movement begins with both hands playing against each other in a flurry of contrary rhythms, the key hovering around C Major most of the time but constantly straying away from it. Debussyish augmented fifths act as a transition to a flurry of activity, the music swirling around chromatically for some time. C Major quickly morphs into C Minor, but with a great many out-of-tonality leading tones and complex chords. By some alchemy, Tsitsaros reaches D Minor for the quiet ending of the movement.

The second movement, marked Romance: Andante cantabile, is much simpler in both mood and construction, here accessible to the medium-grade pianist as are some of the tangos. A certain amount of heightened activity in the center of the movement, however, adds both to its musical interest as well as its complexity. Once again, Tsitsaros displays his mastery of roving into different, sometimes distant, keys, though his almost singable melodic line returns as a sort of home base for the listener to hold on to. The short third movement is described as “Folk Dance in the Cypriot Style,” and is a remarkably vital, vibrant piece, full of fun in a strongly accented, highly syncopated style. Toward the end, the music becomes extraordinarily fast and busy, moving it far beyond the reach of most amateur pianists, building up a torrent of 16th notes and long trills towards a brilliant finish.

Of the four Concert Transcriptions of American Songs, I enjoy Stardust and April in Paris the most, although I would rather hear the quasi-classical transformations that Art Tatum made of such material (not to mention that they swing more!). Nevertheless, these would make excellent encore pieces for any concert pianist, as would the final piece on the album, Tango Apasionado, which Tsitsaros wrote as a eulogy for his friend and recording producer Jon Schoenoff, who died at age 53. It is an exquisitely tender piece, beautifully crafted and played.

This is an excellent album of pieces by a talented creator of vignettes.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Cahier Tango by Christos Tsitsaros
Performer:  Christos Tsitsaros (Piano)
Character Tangos (12) for Piano by Christos Tsitsaros
Performer:  Christos Tsitsaros (Piano)
Sonata for Piano by Christos Tsitsaros
Performer:  Christos Tsitsaros (Piano)
Concert Transcriptions (4) of American Songs by Christos Tsitsaros
Performer:  Christos Tsitsaros (Piano)
Tango apasionado by Christos Tsitsaros
Performer:  Christos Tsitsaros (Piano)

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