Last year we acquired a set of CDs of Cyprien Katsaris playing Liszt’s piano arrangements of the nine Beethoven Symphonies. I have gradually been working my way through the recordings. I reached Number 7 this week and put it on as I travelled between my base hospital, New Somerset, and the new Mitchell’s Plain hospital 27km away. I know these symphonies very well; I played them as duets in my teen years, have read the scores and have the Liszt piano arrangements, most of which I have kind-of played my way through. Listening to Mr Katsaris is a revelation after my efforts. My parents and I had an enjoyable car journey listening to Liszt and him tackling the mighty 5th (C minor, A flat major and C major, all steady and correct) the other day.

The first orchestral score I ever looked into (as a teenager) was that of Beethoven’s A major 7th Symphony. it was wonderful to see that sound divided up vertically across the orchestra. So began a life-long delight with orchestral music. So I was a bit surprised when Mr Katsaris started with a B flat major chord and ended the grand introduction with its (B flat major???) scales with repeated answering Fs instead of Es before the rhythmic dance took over. Knowing the music so well I could ‘see’ the notes and chords on the piano as he played. All the themes, harmonies and modulations were a semitone up, full of flats rather than sharps. It felt odd, but I have a recording of the wind version of the symphony that is in G major so I have heard the music in the ‘wrong key’ before. What surprised me more was hearing the A minor second movement in B flat minor. I had thought that A minor was one of the stable keys in my shifting tonal sensory world – mildly melancholy, bald and bereft of decorating sharps and flats. So having it clothed in the richer tones of B flat minor and ‘seeing’ the music full of black notes was a novel experience. But further peculiarities were to follow. When Beethoven brings back the main theme at the end he divides its phrases across the orchestra – different instruments to do the low, middle and high registers. Inexplicably this sounded in A minor from that point until the end of the movements and its questioning inverted chord. It had reverted to the correct key. The following F major Scherzo alternated between its F  and D major sections without any shadow of a shift. But the wild 4th movement returned to the B flat major of the altered first.

After my meeting at the new hospital, I thought I’d give Mr B and Mr K a test. I put on the music again starting at the beginning. Everything was an exact repeat, even the internal shift at the same place in the 2nd movement.

The clinician scientist within me demands an explanation. I am going to listen again on another machine and test the recording against the piano. Perhaps the recording engineers have made a slip up (or down). I don’t think Mr K’s piano can have done so, and I know Liszt didn’t.