A quick reading of the headnote might not suffice. Yes, Cyprien Katsaris
plays the Emperor
Concerto with nonagenarian Neville Marriner
directing his Academy. There is also a major novelty: the pianist's own
arrangement for solo piano of the same work, a venture on which he had long
wanted to embark - ever since, in fact, he'd heard the LP of it
played by Horowitz, with Fritz Reiner conducting the RCA Victor orchestra.
Its fault for Katsaris? That the introductory tutti belonged to the
orchestra alone. How else was he - quite literally - to get his hands on it,
other than to arrange the whole thing himself? That was necessary because
there is no extant solo version. The slow movement has been transcribed for
solo piano, but otherwise there are the two-piano arrangements,
prominently by Liszt - though there are others, less well-known - and even
some piano-duet versions for the intrepid. Katsaris now makes available his
own work and what a piece of work it is.
It will be enough in itself, I am sure, for some people merely to dismiss
the whole thing altogether. What can possibly be gained, much less achieved?
I suspect that the answer to that lies in the antecedents in respect of this
arrangement, the great nineteenth-century transcribers who made big scores
available for domestic listening. A barnstormer and maverick like Katsaris
does two things with this arrangements: he situates himself, wittingly or
not, in the great lineage of such arrangers and transcribers and he brings
vividly to life his own pianistic conception of the concerto. Whatever
one's feelings about such things there can be no gainsaying the bravado, nor
the brilliance of his achievement. He brings huge dynamic gradients to bear,
especially when embodying the orchestral skin, when his pealing, braying
playing is both galvanizing but only just within the bounds of comfortable
listening. It is especially instructive how he differentiates between the
wind choirs and the brass and how he conveys the string layering into the
solo piano medium. It remains almost impossible to convey the string
cushioning in the opening of the slow movement, which emerges as too
staccato but the later exchanges - self with self, as it were - are full of
moving gravity. The fiery voicings in the finale are equally admirable. If
you object to this, remember Liszt and others, such as Franz Kullack.
Katsaris has a perfect right to unveil his solo version; you don't have to
listen to it. I am delighted that I did. It is instructional, exciting and
it is also triumphantly successful.
The actual concerto recording, with Marriner isn't in any way a let-down
though it has its pugnacious moments, pianistically speaking. It also has
digital finesse and those tell-tale rubati and quite extreme dynamics of
which Katsaris is fond. It's a sensible reading, not especially outstanding,
but marshalled with great thoughtfulness by Marriner. He ensures that
textures are clear, tempi sensible and that there is nothing too honeyed
about the second movement. The military quality of the music is not
over-stressed, nor is its lyricism either over-played or indulged.
It's the solo arrangement that makes this disc so distinctive - though
don't overlook Marriner.
Masterwork Index: Piano