WORKS: Tannhäuser (arr. Wagner), Die Walküre (arr. JRubinstein, Rupp & Brassin), Götterdämmerung (arr. Busoni), Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (arr. Raff) & Tristan und Isolde (arr. Wagner/Bülow)
PERFORMER: Cyprien Katsaris (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 58973 DDD
Wagner had no great interest in the piano, but arrangements of music from his operas were a thriving business during his own lifetime and he even made some himself. On this disc, the Overrture to Tannhäuser is Wagner’s own transcription and so, as far as anyone seems to know, is the concert ending of the Tristan Prelude, the rest of which was arranged by the composer and conductor Hans von Bülow. The Tannhäuser Overture seems to defy translation into truly pianistic terms (Liszt also had a go), but when a pianist has a virtuoso technique as well as a vivid sense of the orchestral original, the failure itself is thrilling. Katsaris has these qualities abundantly and he seems to let the music pour itself out; there’s never any sense of strain. Just listen to the elaboration of the pilgrims’ hymn on its return towards the end of the Overture (about 11 minutes into track one). In later life Wagner employed a ‘house pianist’, Joseph Rubinstein, who was something of a lame duck and suicidally inclined. His pot-pourri from Act I of Die Walküre makes for a bumpy bit of instrumental music, though nicely laid out for the keyboard, and the way Katsaris plays it affords some thrilling moments – the stormy opening is especially powerful.
The other particularly high points are the excerpts from Act III of Die Walküre, ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ and ‘Magic Fire Music’, both arranged by Louis Brassin, a pupil of Ignaz Moscheles. Katsaris plays them with such graceful fluency, it’s easy to take his skill for granted: sometimes you find yourself asking at the end of the passage, ‘How on earth did he do that?’ Yet not during it, for he doesn’t flaunt his brilliance – it arises from the music.
A fascinating programme, beautifully recorded. Adrian Jack