Classical CD Reviews

Piano Rarities, Vol. 3: Transcriptions = of works by KHACHATURIAN, RACHMANINOV, BORODIN, TCHAIKOVSKY, KARLOWICZ, R. STRAUSS – Cyprien Katsaris – Piano 21

This disc claims a tradition that embraces the great transcribers like Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninov, Leopold Godowsky, Earl Wild, Karol A. Penson, and Vladimir Leyetchkiss.

Published on February 6, 2013

Piano Rarities, Vol. 3: Transcriptions = of works by KHACHATURIAN, RACHMANINOV, BORODIN, TCHAIKOVSKY, KARLOWICZ, R. STRAUSS – Cyprien Katsaris – Piano 21

Piano Rarities, Vol. 3: Transcriptions = KHACHATURIAN: Valse from Masquerade; Sabre Dance; Adagio from Gayaneh; Lullaby from Gayaneh; Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia; BORODIN: Polovtsian Dance No. 17; RACHMANINOV: Suite No. 2 for 2 Pianos, Op. 17; Adagio from Symphony No. 2; TCHAIKOVSKY: At the Ball, Op. 36, No. 3; DVORAK: Songs My Mother Taught Me from Gypsy Songs, Op. 55; MONIUSZKO: Mia Madre; KARLOWICZ: To a Grieving Maiden; R. STRAUSS: Allerseelen, Op. 10, No. 6 – Cyprien Katsaris – Piano 21 P21 045-N, 79:37 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Cyprien Katsaris calls this March 2009 album “the fruit of close friendship and musical collaboration.” Given the piano virtuoso’s penchant to commandeer and assimilate the entire musical canon, this disc claims a tradition that embraces the great transcribers like Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninov, Leopold Godowsky, Earl Wild, Karol A. Penson, and Vladimir Leyetchkiss, the last two among Katsaris’ personal friends and advisors.

Katsaris opens with a playful set of arrangements from Aram Khachaturian, including a suavely ornamented Valse in A Minor from Masquerade and a knottily intricate version of the Sabre Dance from Gayaneh, both courtesy of Lev Soline.  In the movie An American in Paris, piano virtuoso Oscar Levant (1906-1972) insisted on performing the Sabre Dance himself; but here, his tribute comes by way of a transcription of the Lullaby, a parlando adagio that utters erotic droplets of sound in a rarified atmosphere. Alec Rowley provides the transcription of the Adagio from Gayaneh, here labeled “Invention” and sounding like Bach crossed with plainchant. For a thoroughly “orchestral” rendering of amorous colors – worthy of Prokofiev’s arrangement of his own Romeo and Juliet – we have the nephew of the composer Emin Khachaturian’s effective piano score of the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from the Spartacus ballet. Ripples and suspended notes conspire to evoke a potent love-scene in the best Wagnerian tradition by way of Armenian energies.

From the perennially evocative pen of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), we have merely one selection, one of the set of Polovtsian Dances of Prince Igor, transcribed by Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931). This serves as the introduction to the entire opera, as we know then from the orchestral arrangement, leading into the ubiquitous Kismet aria “Take My Hand; I’m a Stranger in Paradise.” The major work on the disc (the Vladimir Leyetchkiss – a pupil of the legendary Heinrich Neuhaus) solo transcription of Rachmaninov’s 1901 Suite for 2 Pianos, Op. 17, makes numerous demands, not the least of which involves the Introduction’s percussive mass, already throbbing with syncopations and torrential accents that support a lyrical impulse that must rise from the throng of voices. The Valse blisters its way through three-hand effects and intricate passing ripples with the suave alacrity of a competition etude. The heart of the music, the Romance, plays like an intimate duet in liquid, lilted scale passages. The thrilling Tarentelle certainly impresses in its “pure” form for two pianos, but in this world premier with one piano, Katsaris becomes some kind of semi-mechanical demon, spitting out rapid-fire staccati with unyielding stamina. The last page bursts into flames, whether or not your fire extinguisher lies close at hand. Totally in contrast to such Katsaris diabolerie, we have the transcription by Georg Kirkor – no less a world premier recording – of the Adagio from the Rachmaninov E Minor Symphony, an extended colorized meditation to rival the Vocalise for lyrical utterance and pearly evocations of bliss.

American virtuoso Earl Wild (1915-2010) provides the arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Romance after Alexis Tolstoy’s “Amid the noise at the ball,” rife with wistful melancholy girded by Wild’s added flourishes. The Dvorak popular song “Songs my Mother Taught Me,” Op. 55, No. 4 has a piano version courtesy of Eduard Schutt (1856-1933).  The transposition of the main theme to the bass harmonies under a series of salon-style glissandi proves effective, although a bit like piano-bar magic. Mia Madre, a popular ballad by Stanislaw Moniuszko, has a glittery transcription by Michal Marian Biernacki (1855-1936), quite lush in its application of rolling chords. Karol A. Penson (b. 1946), a Polish scientist with a decided musical bent, provides the two last transcriptions, those by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz and Richard Strauss. In both pieces, Katsaris’ Steinway D intones their world premier recordings with plastic supple grace, all made sonorously possible by the technical assistance of producer Teije van Geest.

—Gary Lemco




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