top of page
  • Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone 07/2020

"a welcome antidote to the boxsets of complete works"

"This collection by Cyprien Katsaris comes as a welcome antidote to the boxsets of complete works, the complete this and the complete that (incidentally, it is 35 piano sonatas, not 32, if we include the three early sonatas, WoO47). It might also be seen as an addendum to Rob Cowan’s masterly survey of wellknown Beethoven works in lesser-known recordings which appeared in the April edition of this magazine. The FrenchCypriot virtuoso is accustomed to thinking outside the box and has come up with the novel (so far as I know) idea of presenting a chronological programme of original Beethoven works and transcriptions (mainly by others).

It’s an attractive prospect both for Beethoven devotees – there are several little-known works included such as the Two Preludes, Op 39, for fortepiano or organ – and for repertoire junkies: you won’t often encounter the Spring and Kreutzer Violin Sonatas arranged for solo piano, or Wagner’s transcription of the Adagio from the Ninth Symphony. Katsaris begins with Beethoven’s first published work, the 11-year-old’s Variations on a March by Dressler (1782), followed soon after by his own solo version of Music for a Knightly Ballet, two works whose sole value is to show that not every work composed by a genius is a masterpiece. But within a short space of time we have the F minor Sonata, Op 2 No 1 (1794), Rage over a lost penny (1795) and a fascinating arrangement made in 1815 by either the composer or Diabelli of the String Trio, Op 3. Disc 2 ends with a thoroughly engaging account of the C minor Piano Sonata, Op 10 No 1 (1798), and its heart-tugging slow movement. It is preceded not by other early sonatas – as every other pianist would – but by transcriptions of the Rondo from the Cello Sonata No 2 and the Sonatina for mandolin and harpsichord (both 1796). You will already be asking if the recording and performances are any good. Katsaris is dismissed in some quarters as a lightweight. Whether it be due to his astonishing technical facility, his all-encompassing repertoire or his prolific recorded output I am not sure. Is it because he achieves all these things without any apparent difficulty? Because it all seems to come to him too easily? Personally, I am unable to see such fecundity and mastery in any negative way but rather as qualities to be celebrated. Katsaris captures the youthful zest of these early works wonderfully well. Moreover, he has been canny in his choice of piano (a warmly voiced Bechstein), recording location (Église Évangélique Saint-Marcel in Paris) and producer (Nikolaos Samaltanos). The piano in this acoustic is very easy on the ear. The record label, Piano 21, is the pianist’s own, as are the most informative notes on the music. The whole project is the result of one man’s vision. It helps. (...)

The Moonlight, the Minuet movement from the Septet transcribed by Liszt (go to Leslie Howard on Hyperion for the whole work in this form), the Appassionata, 32 Variations in C minor and Op 111 are well known. Elsewhere you will encounter the Adagio from the String Quartet Op 18 No 6 (1800) transcribed by Saint-Saëns, as well as surprisingly convincing versions of the two great violin sonatas mentioned above (I love the way Katsaris handles the Spring Sonata’s witty cat-and-mouse Scherzo). And who would not want to hear a solo transcription of the Rondo from the Violin Concerto (1806) with the cadenza Beethoven wrote for his own piano concerto version interpolated? Chronologically, on the final disc Katsaris jumps from 1809 (the ‘À Thérèse’ Sonata, Op 78) to the Sonata in C minor, Op 111 of 1822, ending with Mussorgsky’s transcription of the Lento movement from the String Quartet Op 135 (1826), and then what is described as ‘the very last’ vocal composition of Beethoven, written on December 3, 1826. This is a musikalischer Scherz (‘musical joke’) subtitled Rätselkanon (‘riddle canon’). It consists of 13 notes and lasts just 43 seconds, as eccentric a way as any to round off this unique odyssey."

bottom of page