Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
CD 1
Hungarian Rhapsody, S244 No. 2 in C sharp minor [10:32]
Hungarian Rhapsody, S244 No. 3 in B flat major [4:47]
Hungarian Rhapsody, S244 No. 7 in D minor [5:24]
Hungarian Rhapsody, S244 No. 5 in E minor 'Héroïde-élégiaque' [7:04]
Elegie No. 1, S130 [5:55]
Elegie No. 2, S131 [4:45]
Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 (Nocturne in A flat major) [4:02]
Piano Piece in A flat major (No. 2 from Fünf Klavierstücke), S192/2 (1865) [1:34]
Fünf Klavierstücke, S. 192 [11:35]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S125 [18:10]
CD 2
Trauer-Vorspiel und Trauermarsch, S206 (1885) [7:38]
Unstern: sinistre disastro S208 [6:33]
Nuages gris, S199 [2:59]
La Lugubre Gondola I, S200 No. 1 [4:06]
La Lugubre Gondola II, S200 No. 2 [6:33]
Richard Wagner - Venezia, S201 [3:04]
Am Grabe Richard Wagners, S202 (1883) [3:00]
Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 [29:34]
Cyprien Katsaris (piano)
German Symphony Orchestra Berlin/Arild Remmereit
rec. CD 1; February and April 2011, Tonstudio Teije van Geesr, Heidelberg/Sandhausen (Hungarian Rhapsodies, the two Elegies, Liebesträume, Klavierstücke No.2, Sospiri): June 1975, live at Fête Romantiques de Nohant (Klavierstücke 1-4); May 2007, Grosser Saal, Berlin Philharmonie (Concerto): CD 2; February 2011, Tonstudio Teije van Geesr, Heidelberg/Sandhausen ((Trauervorspiel and Trauermarsch, Unstern!, La Lugubre Gondola No.1); December 1989, Tsuda Hall, Tokyo (Nuages gris, La Lugubre Gondola No.2, R.W. - Venezia, Am Grabe Richard Wagners); July 1973, private recording, somewhere in France (Sonata)
PIANO 21 P21 041N [74:17 + 63:34]
The maverick pianist Cyprien Katsaris has unleashed a torrent of recordings on his Piano 21 label and the first volume in his Liszt series is no different from the others in presenting archive performances alongside much more recent fare.
There are thus a lot of different locations and dates, which are noted in gruesome detail in the head note.
The first eight tracks on CD1, the Hungarian Rhapsodies, the two Elegies and Liebesträume and the Klavierstücke No.2 are all very recent, dating from 2011, as is Sospiri. The Rhapsodies are galvanizing, intrepid, outsize, brilliantly engaging and sometimes very textually suspect. Whether these emendations persuade one that the music is being caricatured is a decision for you. Maybe the octave cadential passage in No.2 - he plays four of the twelve, by the way - is a clincher for the nay-sayer; but, then, maybe not. This is edge of the seat playing, and the highly personalised emendations and interpolations part of his posthumous relationship with Liszt. With the other works he has less need to drape his own colours, rather to rely on acute phrasing and warmth of tone. That said, though, Liebesträume is quite direct. The third of the Klavierstücke is played with touching simplicity. The first four Klavierstücke were recorded live in June 1975, at Fête Romantiques de Nohant and are private recordings. The first disc ends with the Second Piano Concerto played by the German Symphony Orchestra, Berlin directed by Arild Remmereit at the Philharmonie in Berlin in 2007. This is a Katsaris speciality, with dramatic accelerandi, vast reserves of energy and excitement, and a devil take the hindmost feel throughout. Remarkable.
The second disc presents the darker side of Liszt’s imagination with a sequence of lugubrious, and death-fixated pieces. Again, textual fidelity is certainly not always a given but the drum roll evocations in the Trauer-Vorspiel und Trauermarsch are viscerally arresting, Unstern! is profoundly sepulchral whilst heroic pianism infuses RW - Venezia . It would be easy, and tempting, to cite Horowitz as a stylistic model for the live 1974 performance, given somewhere in France, of the Sonata in B minor. It gives an indication of the kind of passion that emanates from Katsaris’s performance, but the correspondence is only partial. The drama here is intense, even coruscating, and it’s a performance that should be heard by all Lisztians, even if they part company from it.
Recording quality varies from location to location, from 1974 (basic, decent) to 2011 (excellent) and points in-between.
These two discs are clearly not without their contentious textual moments. Some will reject the performances on those grounds alone. Katsaris is never frivolous, though he is flamboyant, and he is always passionate, declamatory, and exciting. It’s hard to reject so compelling a performer.
Jonathan Woolf 

Flamboyant, passionate, declamatory and exciting.