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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebestraum no.3, S.541 [04:54], Gnomenreigen (No.2 of Etudes de Concert, S.145) [03:15], Un sospiro (no.3 of Etudes de Concert, S.144) [05:39], Funérailles (no.7 of Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, S.173) [11:32], La Campanella (no.3 of Grandes études de Paganini, S.140) [04:51], Waldesrauchen (no.1 of Etudes de Concert, S.145) [04:03], Grand Galop chromatique, S.219 [04:18], Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254 [13:51], Transcription of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture, S.442 [16:27]
Jorge Bolet (piano)
rec. RCA Studio A, New York City, July 16th 1973 (Tannhäuser), August 21st-24th 1972 (all others)
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 63310 2 [69:15]


All but one of these performances were recorded for RCA in 1972 and then set on one side, unissued and unremembered until Jon M. Samuels found them by chance. The Tannhäuser Overture was a one-off which Bolet offered spontaneously at the end of a session taping works by Rachmaninov, and again was set aside (in all truth it’s not always technically clean so Bolet himself may have vetoed it). 

These performances therefore stand midway between those sometimes staid and unexciting performances of Bolet’s late Decca period, which are what most people know him by, and those of the firebrand cult-figure of his earlier years spent away from the limelight and only tenuously documented. 

Thus the Liebestraum begins sombrely though sensitively, succumbing to a splurge of grand pianism in the middle, while Gnomenreigen begins almost indifferently, the pianist apparently only interested in the music when it is loud. The melodic lines of Un Sospiro are very nicely drawn and, if Waldesrauchen hardly evokes woodland magic it is again well sung. Funérailles is remarkably short of blistering tension in its opening stages – again Bolet seems more engaged when the technical difficulties and the decibels begin to pile up. The bell strikes very dryly at the beginning of La Campanella (the pedal-markings in my Peters Edition edited by Sauer may not be Liszt’s own but surely a spot of pedal is wanted?); it is all remarkably clear and indeed contains much remarkable pianism but only the last page seems fully engaged and Bolet never makes me gasp with sheer amazement the way Ignaz Friedman (for one) does. The Grand Galop chromatique is a lusty affair and the Spanish Rhapsody gets up plenty of barnstorming panache. Meditating on why I was left so unmoved, I think Bolet (and maybe the recording engineers too) is neglecting the instructions Richard Strauss once gave to an orchestra: “Gentlemen, you are giving me all the notes; give me an impression of my music”. Somehow it all seems a bit short on fantasy and sleight of hand, things which may paradoxically come more easily to a pianist with less sure-fire technical equipment. 

As for Tannhäuser, if we imagine for a moment the present performance transported to the orchestra, where no great technical difficulties are involved, we would surely dismiss it as a rather heavy and bandmasterly affair; we would certainly take a poor view of a bandmaster who found such little magic in the entry of the Venusberg music or in the subsequent return of the Pilgrim’s Chorus at the end. 

I kept this disc to almost the last in this particular batch sent for review, promising myself a treat. I’m sorry it didn’t work out that way. Jon M. Samuels presents the case for the defence in the booklet and admirers of this pianist should note that he made no other commercial recording of the Spanish Rhapsody. 

Christopher Howell 



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