Cyprien Katsaris began piano lessons at the age of four in The Cameroons, to which his parents had moved. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of thirteen, studying piano with Aline van Barentzen and Monique de la Bruchollerie, and chamber music with Jean Hubeau. Whilst at the Paris Conservatoire he won a premier prix for both piano and chamber music. After winning the Albert Roussel Prize, Katsaris entered the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow where he was awarded an honorary diploma. Two years later he was a prizewinner at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, and two years after that Katsaris won first prize at the International Cziffra Competition in Versailles. Katsaris participated in the English Bach Festival, giving a recital at the Purcell Room in 1976 and the following year returned to London where he joined Martha Argerich, Homero Francesch and Krystian Zimerman in a performance of Stravinsky’s Les Noces conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
In 1977, in Czechoslovakia, Katsaris was awarded the International UNESCO Youth Prize for his interpretation of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op. 83 by Brahms. The following year he made his debut in New York playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Antal Dorati. In the late 1970s Katsaris was the subject of two films, one of which was directed by Claude Chabrol and was shown at the 1979 Echternach Festival of which Katsaris had been artistic director since 1977. Another film was made documenting his tour with the Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra.
During the 1980s Katsaris made a name for himself as the performer of Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, which he recorded. He has also composed, and taught at the Salzburg Mozarteum, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, the Arts Academy in Mexico, Toronto University, and at the Figurative Arts Academy of Hong Kong. Katsaris has performed with many orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Concertgebouw and Cleveland with conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Kurt Masur and Christoph von Dohnányi. With his own piano quintet Katsaris has performed in Europe, America and Japan, and been a jury member at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw and the International Liszt Competition in Utrecht.
Katsaris’s appearance at the 1972 Queen Elisabeth Competition prompted Belgian Decca to ask him to record Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor. He recorded Schubert and Scriabin for French EMI in Paris in the late 1970s, and in 1979 a performance at the Echternach Festival in Luxemburg was heard, via a broadcast in Japan, by the head of Teldec records. As well as for Decca and Teldec, he has recorded for Pavane, EMI, BMG, Deutsche Grammophon and Sony. In 1982 Katsaris was in the news as soloist on a recording of a ‘lost’ concerto by Liszt. This was later proved to be an original work by Tchaikovsky from 1892, the Concerto in the Hungarian Style, the manuscript of which turned up at the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York. However, Katsaris had good support from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy and it is an enjoyable performance. Also heard on the LP are Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy and his arrangement for piano and orchestra of Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy.
Katsaris’s most well-known recordings have been made for Teldec. They include the first complete solo recording of Liszt’s arrangements of Beethoven’s symphonies, recorded between 1983 and 1989. The disc of the Symphony No. 9 won a Record of the Year award in Germany and a Grand Prix du Disque Franz Liszt in 1984. Twelve years after winning a prize for his performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op. 83, Katsaris recorded the work with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Eliahu Inbal. It is a grand and romantic performance, full of large gestures. Katsaris is less successful in Mendelssohn’s piano concertos where he seems to be striving for speed above anything else and introduces unnecessary and unpleasant accents in the left hand of the finale of the G major Concerto. In solo works of Schumann including Kinderszenen Op. 15, Waldszenen Op. 82 and Albumblätter Op. 124 Katsaris has a habit of emphasising certain parts and lines that can also become irritating. He is better in Chopin and his recording of the complete ballades and scherzos won the Grand Prix du Disque Frédéric Chopin in 1985. The following year he received an award from the Music Retailers’ Association of Great Britain for his recording of Liszt’s four Mephisto-Waltzes and Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude.
In the mid 1990s Katsaris made some recordings for Sony including Chopin’s complete Préludes Op. 28, piano sonatas, polonaises and some of his rarely-heard short works. Two interesting discs were issued of transcriptions and arrangements, the one of works by Mozart, the other of works by Wagner. Katsaris obviously enjoys playing transcriptions and arrangements; in November 2000 he played a recital of Bach arrangements at Carnegie Hall. One critic observed, ‘Mr Katsaris, with his flair for the flashy, was at his best in the big bravura numbers.’
Katsaris has also appeared on disc as accompanist to cellist Ofra Harnoy, in Chopin and Franck for RCA, and with soprano Margaret Price in Liszt songs for Teldec. More
recently Katsaris has recorded Mozart sonatas for Pavane and has also set up his own label, Piano 21, for which he has recorded a disc of works by Sergei Bortkiewicz and some Bach and Beethoven.