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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat [19.19]
Mephisto Waltz [10.50]
Héroïde Funèbre (Symphonic Poem No. 8) [24.55]
Lazar Berman (piano)
Symphony Orchestra of RAI Turin/Peter Maag
Recorded Live 1976/1978, RAI Turin
ARTS ARCHIVES 43041-2 [56.25]

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The late Peter Maag’s discography does not seem to include any Liszt, so it is interesting that Arts Archive have chosen to issue this all-Liszt CD, based on concerts he gave in the 1970s. The notes do not say, but I presume that these were originally radio broadcasts, though all were played before an audience.

The recordings date from 1976 and 1978 and have been re-mastered to Arts Archive’s usual high standards. Though there is still a little bit of tape hiss, the main problem is a certain glassiness which afflicts the piano in its upper registers; this carries over to the high woodwinds at times.

This is a shame, because Lazar Berman’s account of the solo part in Liszt’s Piano Concert No. 1 in E flat will be one of the reasons why people will wish to acquire this record. Berman made studio recordings of both Liszt piano concertos with Giulini and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. But Berman’s huge talent was such that he always had something new to say when caught live. Not the most subtle or refined of pianists, he still manages to turn in some passages of surprising delicacy despite the aforementioned problems with piano sound. But subtlety is not necessarily required in this work and though Berman is on form in the wonderful bravura passages, as a complete performance I did not think that this quite took wing.

Perhaps the fault lies in the rather classically-inclined Maag. He is a fine orchestral technician and gets some lovely playing from the RAI Symphony Orchestra, though there are odd moments of imprecision. But I missed a certain quixotic passion, the Hungarian element in Liszt’s musical make-up.

The accompanying items are taken from another live concert. Liszt’s ‘Mephisto Waltz’ is performed on its own which is a shame. Together with ‘Night Ride’ the pieces make up ‘Two Pieces from Lenau’s Faust’ and it would have been good to have heard both of them, though Maag chose not to do so. The ‘Mephisto Waltz’ is good, as far is it goes; but I don’t think it goes far enough. Perhaps if the RAI Symphony Orchestra dazzled technically things would be OK, but they don’t really dazzle so you notice that the performance lacks the necessary manic element, the sense of dancing on the edge of the abyss.

Still, the last piece on the disc more than compensates for this. At nearly 25 minutes it is the longest piece on the disc, and the rarest. The Héroïde Funèbre is the most problematic and least known of Liszt’s symphonic poems. The work has its origins in the July 1830 uprising, when Liszt was going to call it the Revolutionary Symphony. It was actually completed at the time of the 1848 rebellion and dedicated to all the martyrs of the independence movement. Liszt did not openly side with the revolutionaries, unlike his future son-in-law Wagner, however he did sympathise with them. The result is a funeral march of Mahlerian dimensions. It is all rather static with Liszt using his considerable orchestration skills to provide variety. To get this piece on disc you otherwise have to go to one of the recordings of Liszt’s complete symphonic poems.

The combination of Berman caught live and the rare symphonic poem means that, whatever its limitations, this is a recording of great interest to lover’s of Liszt’s music.

Robert Hugill


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