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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
The Great Romantic

Les Préludes (1854) [15:08]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1847) [10:23]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major (1856) [19:23]
Tasso (1854) [19:24]
Hooshik Hwang (piano)
Russian Federal Orchestra/Vakhtang Jordania
Recorded Moscow 2003; (Tasso, 2000)
ANGELOK1 CD-7752 [61:08]

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For those without any Liszt orchestral music in their collection this might make a good start-up disc by virtue of the selection of works. There are two symphonic poems including the most well known - Les Préludes, an orchestral arrangement of Liszt’s most famous piano piece – the second Hungarian Rhapsody, and one of the two piano concertos.

Liszt, "the Great Romantic", had such contrasting sides to his musical personality that some people have thought they amounted to a form of schizophrenia. This can be heard in the music where we can rapidly be taken from a brooding, restrained, ruminative lyricism to macho flamboyance; the latter quality visually expressed in the cartoon on the disc cover. Conductors tend to lean more to one side than the other, perhaps reflecting their own personalities. Those who try to compromise can end up with performances that fall between two stools. I feel this is the case with, for example, Bernard Haitink whose recording of Les Préludes sounds surprisingly bland. Leonard Bernstein, as you might expect, goes for glittering panache whereas with Karajan we get blended beauty in the slow romantic passages.

The Soviet-born conductor, Vakhtang Jordania, definitely goes for the macho approach at the expense of brooding romanticism. The Russian Federal Orchestra is ideally suited to this treatment, for although they might be a little short on beauty of string tone, they certainly make up for it with hefty and often exciting blasts of brass. That said, the strings are recorded so close here that they are in danger of stealing the brass desks’ thunder. There is also an emphasis on rhythm which you do not always get in these works. In the First Piano Concerto the pianist, Hooshik Hwang fits in perfectly with the style. Although he comes from South Korea, there is something of the ivory basher about his playing that one associates with some Russian (or Soviet) virtuosi. This is a man who is at home thumping out his double octaves and sufficiently cavalier about it that he is not averse to the odd wrong note.

These are out-going performances that bring out the extrovert side of Liszt’s character and with that proviso can certainly be enjoyed. Apart from Les Préludes, the recorded sound has considerable depth and this may reflect the venue which is the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. I rather like it but some may find it over-reverberant, something that particularly affects the piano sound and tends to emphasise the bass. Les Préludes was recorded in Moscow’s Radio Palace Hall which clearly has a damper acoustic.

John Leeman

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