In a compelling and somewhat controversial radio broadcast beamed from Boston, Katsaris takes the reigns and regales Georgy Cziffra, a celebrated pianist whose career never reached the summit that Horowitz attained. Katsaris is brutally honest about his own displeasure with this state of musical affairs and harps on the “transcriptions” that Cziffra composed and realized with unparalleled virtuosity. “Purely pianistically, Cziffra was superior to Horowitz,” Katsaris insisted. And then he more clearly focused on the transcriptions and their performances by the Hungarian pianist.
As example, here’s the artist/transcriber’s own reading of ‘Bumblebee’ that is ear shattering! (Everything Katsaris fleshed out about Cziffra’s phrasing, imagination and musicianship is realized in this performance)
Ironically, an anonymous You Tuber managed to catch Katsaris playing the same Cziffra transcription back when, and posted it. Re-played on the air in Boston, it put Katsaris in the hot seat as coyly noted by the interviewer, Cathy Fuller.
Here’s the second version for comparison. It’s certainly a far better recording environment, but I can see why Katsaris took the time to praise Cziffra on this score and others. (pun intended)
In the course of Katsaris’s interview, he revealed himself as an impeccable music historian, recounting fascinating stories about Eugene Ormandy and Rachmaninoff. For this generous and colorful serving of pianorama, I’d recommend a hasty visit to:
You won’t be disappointed.
(Station Name: 99.5, Boston’s All Classical Station, a service of WGBH
Host: Cathy • Producer: Alan McLellan • Engineer: Jane Pipik)
By the way, here’s Yuja Wang adding her bedazzling ‘Bumblebee’ to the mix.
The crescendi in Cziffra and Katsaris’s readings seem more convincing. One can feel the bumbleebee’s buzzing at close range, then circling around.
Biography: (excerpted from http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Cziffra-Gyorgy.htm)
György Cziffra (Piano)
Born: November 5, 1921 Budapest – Hungary
Died: January 15, 1994 – Morsang-sur-Orge (Senlis), France
“The noted Hungarian-born French pianist, Georges [originally György] Cziffra, was a son of Hungarian Romas (his father, György Cziffra Sr., a cembalo player who played in cabaret halls and restaurants in Paris in the 1910’s).
“Cziffra was noticed at the age of 5, as he improvised on popular tunes in bars and circuses. His teachers at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest included Ernő Dohnányi.
“His education was interrupted by World War II, when he served in the Hungarian army. After the war he continued his studies at the Franz Liszt Academy with Ferenczi, but was once more distracted from music when he was arrested in 1950 for his rebellious political views. Held under forced labor, he was eleased from jail in 1953, but was again endangered by the abortive Hungarian revolt in 1956.
“In 1956, convinced that he could have no peace under Communist rule, on the eve of the Hungarian insurrection and after a stunning account of Béla Bartók’s second piano concerto (EMI References), György Cziffra escaped with his wife (Soleilka – of Egyptian origin) and son to Vienna where his recital at the Brahmsaal caused a sensation. News of this event reached The New Yorker. His Paris debut the following year caused a similar furor – and his London debut at the Royal Festival Hall playing Franz Liszt’s first concerto and Hungarian Fantasy was equally regaled.
“His meteoric career continued with concerts throughout Europe and debuts at the Ravinia Festival (Grieg and F. Liszt concertos with Carl Schuricht) and Carnegie Hall New York with Thomas Schippers.
“It should be noted that he always performed with a large leather wristband, as a memento of his years in labor. In 1968 he became a naturalized French citizen, and in 1973 he founded the St.-Frambourg Royal Chapel Foundation in Senlis, France to assist young musicians and artists.
“He died in Senlis, 72 years old, from a heart attack resulting from series of complications from lung cancer due to smoking and alcohol.
“György Cziffra was best known for his interpretations of works of the Romantic repertoire. He is most known for his brilliant and extravagant recordings of Franz Liszt’s virtuoso works. He also recorded many of Frédéric Chopin’s compositions and those of Robert Schumann. His interpretation of “Carnaval de Vienne” was admired by Alfred Cortot, and his famous transcription of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’ written in interlocking octaves was celebrated.
“Many of his recordings are controversial, claimed by some to be showy and unmusical. Others regard these reactions as professional jealousy. In any case there is generally little doubt that Cziffra had a remarkable virtuoso technique and was a master at improvisation. He published “Des canons et des Fleurs” (Paris, 1977).
“György Cziffra’s son, György Cziffra, Jr., was a professional conductor and participated in several concerts and recordings with his father. However, his promising career was cut short due to his death by burning accident in 1981 – said to have been accompanied by a suicide note – an event that sparked a progressively diminishing morale in Cziffra, Sr. Cziffra never again performed or recorded with an orchestra, and some critics have commented that the severe emotional blow had an impact on his playing quality as well. While many thought that his pianism deteriorated after the death of his son, some felt that his playing was deeper than before.”