> LISZT Tasso etc Plasson 00947BC [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb

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Franz LISZT (1811-1986)
Tasso. Lamento e Trionfo (1849, revised 1854)
Les Préludes (1848, revised before 1854)
Mazeppa (1851, revised before 1854)
Orphée 91854)
Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michel Plasson
Recorded in 1992 and 1993 at the Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany


Michel Plasson was born in Paris in 1933 and after his studies as a pianist and percussionist went to the United States to work with Leinsdorf, Stokowski and his compatriot Pierre Monteux. In 1968 he was appointed conductor of the Capitole Orchestra in Toulouse and he has held that post ever since. In 1994 he also became principal conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra. He had appeared with them as guest conductor on several previous occasions, and the association was a fruitful one. But he fulfilled both functions for only five years at which point he relinquished the Dresden post. He has thus remained faithful to his orchestra at Toulouse for thirty-four years, creating what is without question one of the finest orchestras in France. He gives six or seven concerts a year in the Halle aux Grains, a converted grain market not far from the centre of the city, as well as others in the surrounding regions. His programmes are always enterprising, but given the choice it is better to hear him in Berlioz rather than Bach, in Mahler than in Mozart. His performances of the larger works of Beethoven have been impressive, and he has always been particularly active in promoting French music, including that by lesser known composers such as Magnard. He has also given many first performances, particularly of works by French composers. He is a fine conductor of opera with a real sense of the theatre, and has conducted widely outside France and Germany, both in the concert hall and the opera house. His son Emmanuel is also a professional conductor.

The disc under review was recorded before he was appointed to his post at Dresden, and the repertoire is one to which he is particularly suited. The idea of programme music, based on literary themes, folk tales or other, more or less lofty, extra-musical ideas, is a particularly Romantic concept. The symphonic poem, in which this idea is developed into a large-scale orchestral work, was a favourite of Liszt, as is was to be to Richard Strauss and others. The four symphonic poems on this disc are excellent examples of the form, though a curious feature is that the orchestration of Tasso is by Joachim Raff and that of Mazeppa seems to be have been a joint venture between Raff and the composer. In any event the music is passionate and eventful, which will not come as a surprise to those who know the piano concertos or the earlier piano solo works, but without the darkness and the extremely advanced harmonic innovations which are a feature of the music composed closer to the end of his life.

Les Préludes presents the listener with a succession of scenes taken from life, that life which is, in fact, only a series of preludes to what happens after it. The music is anything but fragmented, however; on the contrary, like the Piano Sonata the musical material is perfectly controlled to make an organic and convincing entity. Tasso celebrates the artistic suffering and eventual triumph of the sixteenth century Italian poet Torquato Tasso, and Mazeppa recounts the story of a Polish nobleman persecuted for his liaison with countess but who also triumphs in the end. Orphée takes as its starting point the traditional story of Orpheus and Euridice.

This is clearly music in which Michel Plasson believes wholeheartedly, and he inspires the orchestra to really outstanding playing. There is playing of remarkable delicacy when required, but what is more striking is the extraordinary power the conductor encourages from his players. Climaxes are overwhelming but the music remains clearly articulated: all the participants well understand the difference between power and mere weight.

This is, I think, the only disc available of this particular combination of works. It is in any event totally successful and makes the best possible case for this music. However, there is a Naxos disc conducted by Michael Halász of almost the same programme – Prometheus is substituted for Orphée – which is also very successful, and for anyone who can’t get enough of Liszt’s symphonic poems there is always the marvellous Kurt Masur on two EMI double albums.

William Hedley

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