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Katsaris @ Wigmore Hall + New CD

| Culture, Music, Venues | 16/06/2014

Cyprien Katsaris
Photo credit: Carole Bellaïche

Cyprien Katsaris has a twinkle in his eye, and his improvisation revealed a delightful sense of fun, matched by sheer showmanship. Trailing his hand alongside the boat for Offenbach’s Barcarolle, he unexpectedly coursed to Rodrigo; keys thrummed as if the neck of a guitar. Was that a touch of Plaisir d’Amour as he whisked us around the world? Stopping-off to chime the bells of St Clement’s. Khachaturian, fancified and scrumptious; Tchaikovsky, summoning visions of ballerinas. Then, clouds across the sky, dark and dramatic. A glissando, and a single note to end.

After some friendly banter Katsaris simply sat down and started Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat. It seemed a dialogue with an old friend and, fired through their exchange, they forged their acquaintance anew, transporting the house with them. The Andante Sostenuto was measured not moody, and as beautiful as to obliterate the outside world. Here we bore witness to the supreme sensitivity synonymous with Katsaris who shared not only the wondrous music but his interaction with it, the Allegro quite stunning in its restraint.

I seemed to hear clicking noises from the centre stalls, a persistent tapping of text or an odd acoustic reverberance. With typical Englishness no one else seemed to pay any mind. Thankfully, my mind could close to it too.

The maestro re-emerged for the second half, straight onto stage and straight into his own transcription of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. It’s a piece he knows inside-out, first performed with Birmingham Symphony Orchestra when trialling some new conductor named Simon Rattle. At turns uplifting, then restful, to an amazing extent – the conclusion of the first movement so brilliant that Katsaris had to shush the spontaneous applause it necessarily ushered. The Adagio proved arresting, and the Hall fell to stillness. No such formalised break before the Rondo which made for a staggering contrast. Cyprien stood to roars of approval, countless listeners also on their feet.

In encore we were offered Poulenc’s Ways of All Love, as charming as its performer. Then, with effortless panache, an exquisite rendition of Nocturne in E Flat by Chopin. And more. An entertainer of the old school, Katsaris adores his audience – and they him – he delights in giving them every penny’s worth.

Photo credit: Carole Bellaïche

New CD: Emperor Concerto

Katsaris’ rippling waterfall-like playing is in complete sympathy with the orchestra, never forceful but as thrilling as always. OK, we can no longer be surprised by the piece – but relish the shimmering airiness of this marvellous new recording. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is characteristically light, injecting freshness into the master-work. The first movement is a triumph not triumphal, grand not grandiose. The dynamics are carefully balanced, and Sir Neville Marriner affords the perfect foil for Katsaris who interweaves fluently with the amassed chamber forces.

The second movement demonstrates a clear modernity, the orchestral three-chord ascents complementing the piano as it seems to explore variations of phrasing. It’s potentially theatrical stuff – impossible to dislodge the Bernstein influence – though a cleverly refined performance that eventually becomes almost jaunty. So spellbinding you lose your way. The close of the Adagio is allowed to fade softly, and the Allegro doesn’t ‘hit’ as much as carry you along. The fateful drum-strokes play out like an unravelling skein, gentile yet pertinent. Music become magic.

Katsaris is to be commended for his astonishing solo arrangement that follows. I wasn’t expecting to miss the interaction of the orchestra, and maybe it’s better live than on CD. However, the latter passages of the Allegro are breathtaking. The second movement, as expected, is resplendent. It really is something to hear him let loose on a melody, and it shines. An intriguing, valuable and important addition to any serious musical collection.

Due for release physically and digitally on July 7 – don’t miss it.

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