Cyprien Katsaris

Chopin: Concerto No. 2 Op. 21 - The 4 Versions

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Pianist Cyprien Katsaris, whose own notes for this album appear in English, German, and French, is quite right to note that none of the four versions of Fryderyk Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21, would have sounded odd to an audience in the early 19th century, when arrangements for groups smaller than a symphony orchestra were the only way of reproducing orchestral music at home. However, only the solo piano version, by Chopin himself, dates from that time. The version for piano and string quintet is by pianist David Lively, and that for two pianos is a bizarre hybrid of Chopin's own arrangments of the tuttis, plus two different versions of the accompanimental material in the first and in the second and third movements. This rather tortured procedure points to the problem with this entire release. Katsaris is a strong Chopin player, with an arresting relaxed lyricism punctuated by nicely shaped dramatic gestures, but the alternate versions add very little to one's understanding of the work. Chopin's own arrangement was made not for performance purposes but for teaching, and it muddies the work's structure; the anticipation of the new pianistic language that emerges in the solo part disappears. It is perhaps retained in the string quintet version, but the heroic gestures with which the first-movement piano part is introduced is necessarily damped down. The most effective, through sheer novelty, of the three versions is the two-piano score: Katsaris, through the miracle of multitracking, plays both parts, and the music seems to breathe despite the restrictions of the technical trick. This arrangement is not free of the defects of the others, however. Probably of most interest to serious 19th century completists despite excellent engineering that knits together presentations from several different venues.

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