Ever since discovering that Katsaris had recorded some of the etudes by Amédée Méreaux, I had to get this disc. At the time I was considering returning to study to write a dissertation on the composer. In my anticipation, I contacted Katsaris's agent, asking for, and soon receiving, an advance 'raw' copy of the disc.
After what has seemed like a LONG time, I'm very happy to see that this recording has now been polished and commercially released. The music that Katsaris has included here is high-quality stuff, beginning with five studies by Méreaux, a composer never before recorded to my knowledge. Rather than being in the same category as the fantastic, sprawling études of Liszt or Alkan, these smaller pieces were presumably intended to be used purely as technical studies, as an aid for extension of technique, particularly, it seems, for independence of the fingers. Méreaux's etudes (60 studies/'caprices' in all, published in five volumes) seek to address all of the pianistic challenges of the time. They were highly regarded - Berlioz commended them - and were adopted onto the syllabus of the Paris Conservatoire after publication. According to the sleeve notes, even Prokofiev knew and played at least one of them. Apparently Katsaris has said that these are the most difficult studies he has ever attempted to learn.
Katsaris takes the first study at a blistering tempo with a hair-raising repeated rhythmical figuration in the left hand underpinning a legato melody in the right hand, which is surrounded by arpeggio figurations. This had me on the edge of my seat when I first heard it!
The second etude is a charming 'Romance', which is well within the grasp of the able amateur, but to which Katsaris brings poetry and a tenderness of touch that is very appealing.
The third is a very difficult study in finger independence, requiring rapid note-repetition for the index finger in both hands.
The fourth is a calm, sighing Nocturne requiring regular stretches of a 10th in the right hand.
The fifth - a solemn, even grave, work and perhaps the strongest of the recorded studies, bringing to mind Schumann - poses challenges in polyrhythm (amongst others), which Katsaris meets and achieves with aplomb.
It is true - to euphemise Marc-André Hamelin's words relating to Méreaux's etudes in general - that some of them are quite un-musical, but that does not mean that we should overlook his works, which have languored largely unnoticed for many decades.
Moving on, the piece by de Severac is beautiful, imbued with a childlike happy playfulness and gentle wistfulness.
This is followed by another short work, by Noël Gallon, which has a tinge of reminiscence about it.
A delightful set of variations by Jean Gallon follow, ahead of other short pieces by Plé-Caussade, Damase (which includes a ravishing episode in arpeggiated figurations) and Laubry.
The quasi-minimalist work by Jacob Tardien also stands out for me, for the sincerity of its dialogue, which evokes longing, even regret.
Two waltzes follow, by Berthelot and Jean Wiener, the second of which is quite humorous and seems to poke fun at itself. These are followed by another short piece by Wiener.
All of the shorter works reviewed above are well worth investigation.
What is refreshing about Katsaris is that he doesn't take himself too seriously, as is evidenced by the barn-storming Galop-Marche for eight hands on one piano(!) by Albert Lavignac, which is a great romp, and seems to have brought the house down in this live recording.
Another facet of Cyprien's talent is his gift for seemingly effortless improvisation, which is given free rein in track 17 on the disc.
Four pieces by Michel Sogny follow, three attractive etudes and a brooding, emotive work entitled `Réminiscentiel'.
These are followed by the first of two more `modern' sounding works, a sonata by Stephane Blet, which includes some aggressive pianistic outbursts and a lovely section beginning just after the 1:00 mark.
The second of these `modern' works, the last track on the disc, by Yves Claoué, is the only work which doesn't quite 'work' for me, as regards inclusion here. Though obviously worthy of being recorded, it doesn't quite give me the satisfactory close to this disc that I would have liked.
Also, there are a few clips in the recording, where I assume different takes have been spliced, but this doesn't detract from the quality of the disc.
Overall, then, this is a great CD, a mixture of studio and live recordings that shed light on composers and works that are all-too overlooked and under-appreciated, at least outside of France. I hope that other pianists take note and explore some more of the many byways of the French classical music heritage. There are hundreds of other well-deserving composers, today forgotten, whose music is worthy of being known.
Thank you Cyprien and Piano 21 for introducing us to a small part of France's lesser-known pianistic history. More please, from anyone willing...!