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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.5 in E flat Op.73 Emperor (1809) [38:11]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.5 in E flat Op.73 Emperor (1809) - solo piano version arr. Cyprien Katsaris [37:15]
Cyprien Katsaris (piano)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
rec. July 2013, Tonstudio Teije van Geest, Heidelberg/Sandhausen (solo piano versiono); April 2014, Henry Wood Hall, London (orchestral version)
PIANO 21 P21051-N [75:35]

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.

Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Piano Concerto 5