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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Three pieces from Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, S173: Ave Maria (1847-52) [6:28]; Pensées des morts (1847-52) [12:24]; Pater noster (1847-52) [2:45]
Via Crucis (The way of the cross), for solo voices, chorus and organ, S53 (1876-78) [42.44]
Brigitte Engerer (piano)
Accentus/Laurence Equilbey
rec. April 2006, Cité Internationale des Congrčs de Nantes-Métropole, France. DDD
NAĎVE V 5061 [58:27]

I have seriously taken up a position as a religious and Catholic composer. Now, this is a limitless field for art, which I feel is my vocation to cultivate vigorously.” (Liszt, in a letter to Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein in 1856)

Although best known as a virtuoso pianist Liszt was also a major influence as a progressive composer who according to biographer Cecil Gray created “some of the greatest and most original masterpieces of the nineteenth century”. A prolific and versatile composer he produced over seven hundred scores covering most genres of which over half were piano compositions.

My experiences at recorded music societies have confirmed that although Liszt’s name is extremely well known a large proportion of his compositions remain unknown. With the exception of a small number of frequently recorded warhorses and the temporary resurgence in interest for the centenary of his death, Liszt is a composer who is currently unfashionable. The same could be said about Charles Gounod and César Franck whose music seems to be suffering the same ignominious fate.

Given the relative neglect of Liszt’s music in recent times it is hard to imagine just how esteemed he was in his day. As a strong advocate of Liszt I believe that one of his most enduring genres, and frequently his most neglected, is his often revelatory sacred music. Religion played a major part in Liszt’s life. He regarded himself as “a loyal son of the Catholic church” joining the Franciscan order and receiving minor orders in 1865 becoming Abbé Liszt. Liszt subsequently undertook considerable religious instruction and in 1879 was made an honorary canon of St. Albano in Rome. A substantial amount of the sacred music has been released on disc over the last twenty years or so but assembling a collection is not always easy. From my own collection I have listed at the end of this review a number of high quality Liszt sacred works and other interesting discoveries that can be obtained without undue effort.

The feature work on this Naďve release is Liszt’s Via Crucis (The way of the cross). Liszt began outlining the score in 1876-77 at the Villa d'Este in Rome and evidently completed it in Budapest the next year. Budapest was also the location of its premiere presentation some fifty years later on Good Friday 1929. 

Scored for solo voices, chorus and organ the Via Crucis is a remarkable devotional Roman Catholic work describing Christ’s final hours, centred around his journey of carrying the Cross. The design follows the division into fourteen ‘Stations of the Cross that represent the Passion of Christ. Catholic churches generally have pictures or tableaux of these scenes along the nave walls, usually seven on each side. The group move around the church stopping at each station for mediations of prayers and singing. The devotion is most commonly undertaken during Lent; especially on Good Friday. For the Via Crucis Liszt employed texts from the Bible, hymns and chorales. These were compiled by his mistress and benefactor, the Polish Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein.

In truth, the Via Crucis is not a work for everyday listening, with its spare employment of resources and its intended use for the season of Lent and Good Friday. It is really a sacred work for the specialist listener. Having recently listened to six versions of the score, three with organ and three with piano, I strongly feel that the organ, for its commanding sound and strong ecclesiastical qualities, is considerably more in keeping with church traditions than the piano.

On this recording Naďve have employed the undoubted talents of the French vocal ensemble Accentus under the direction of their founder Laurence Equilbey. In a firmly controlled performance, my highlights are the expressive singing of soloists: Cyrille Gautreau the rich bass as Pilate and Pierre Corbel as Jesus who displays a dark and smoothly appealing timbre. In the final station XIV ‘Jesus is laid in the tomb the mezzo-soprano of Violaine Lucas blends beautifully with the choir. Although not my instrument of preference in this score the piano of Brigitte Engerer is handled with considerable sensitivity displaying an agreeable timbre. The recording engineers have provided a decent sound quality with a closely caught choir and the piano is also forwardly placed.

It is with great confidence that I can recommend the Hungaroton version of the Via Crucis performed by the Budapest Chorus and soloists directed by Miklós Szabó, with Gábor Lehotka on organ. The fine cast of soloists includes the eminent soprano Éva Marton. In the absence of recording details the label has kindly informed me that this recording was made at the Matthias Church, Budapest in 1971 and has evidently been digitally remastered on Hungaroton ‘White Label’ HRC 145 (c/w Szekszárd Mass, S8/2). This is an extremely devout interpretation, at times powerful and at other times appropriately restrained, conveying great humility from these immaculate performers. The excellent sound quality enhances the desirability of this superb release.

I have another acclaimed version of Via Crucis from the Ensemble Vocal Musicatreize directed by Roland Hayrabedian with Roland Conil on piano. Those who prefer the use of the piano over the organ will surely appreciate this version on Calliope CAL 9225 (c/w Ave verum, S44; Salve Regina, S66; O salutaris, S 43). With appropriate reverence Hayrabedian directs a performance of considerable dramatic energy in the clear yet closely recorded ecclesiastical acoustic of the chapelle St. Martin du Méjean, France in 1993.

Three other recordings of the Via Crucis that I have heard but are not part of my collection:

a)      The Chœur Sacrum directed by Andris Veismanis with organist Vincent Genvrin recorded at Riga Cathedral, Latvia in 1994 on Éditions Hortus 002 (c/w Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, S179; Les Morts, S268/2). Musicweb-international reviewer Paul Shoemaker wrote, “This is the best performance and recording of it I’ve ever heard.” Review 

b) The Corydon Singers directed by Matthew Best with Thomas trotter as organist recorded at St Alban's Church, Holborn, London in 2000 on Hyperion CDA67199 (c/w Missa Choralis, S10).

c) The account from the Radio Svizzera Choir, Lugano directed by Diego Fasolis on Naxos 8.553786 (c/w Ave Maria, S20/1; Die Seligpreisungen (The Beatitudes), S25; Pater noster, S41/1; Vater unser, S29).

This Naďve release includes three works from Liszt’s collection of ten piano pieces Harmonies poétiques et religieuses: Ave Maria; Pensée des morts and Pater noster. The first significant piano works Liszt composed in his highly productive Weimar years was the collection of ten religiously inspired scores with the collective title Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, the majority of which were composed between 1847-52. The selection of the three pieces seems a strange one as they are, I believe, some of the least inspiring works in the collection. I would have preferred to have heard Brigitte Engerer’s interpretation of the two masterpieces: Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude (1845) and the Funčrailles (1849), and maybe also the expressive Cantique d’amour (1847-52).

In spite of my reservations over the choice of pieces from the set of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses pianist Brigitte Engerer, a student of the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow, gives a magnificent performance. Engerer displays a genuine feeling for the repertoire with refined awareness of the liturgical character of the works and is particularly well served by the recording engineers. I trust that I have the good fortune to encounter Brigitte Engerer in a future recital of Liszt piano works.

A well performed release from Naďve of the Via Crucis using the piano, but the competition is fierce. I especially enjoyed the outstanding playing of pianist Brigitte Engerer in the three pieces of the Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses

Michael Cookson


For those wishing to explore outside the more usual genre of the Liszt piano works and symphonic poems I have listed below a number of works from my collection that have provided me with considerable enjoyment. These are all fascinating Liszt recordings that can be obtained with reasonable effort. I have indicated those that I recommend especially highly.

Recommended Sacred Works: 

Missa Solennis (Gran Festival Mass) (A highly recommend work and recording)

for SATB soloists, chorus and orchestra, S9 (1855; rev. 1857-58)

Klára Takács (alto); Veronika Kincses (soprano); György Korondi (tenor); József Gregor (bass); Budapest Symphony Orchestra; Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus conducted by János Ferencsik.

ADD, recorded circa 1977 on Hungaroton HCD 11861-2.

Missa coronationalis (Hungarian Coronation Mass) (A highly recommended work and recording)

for SATB soloists, chorus and orchestra, S11 (1865; Gradual 1869)
Veronika Kincses (soprano); Klára Takács (alto); Dénes Gulyás (tenor); László Polgár (bass), Péter Hidy (violin); Budapest Symphony Orchestra; Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus conducted by György Lehel.
ADD, recorded circa 1994(?) on Hungaroton Classic HCD 12148. 

Requiem (A highly recommended work and recording)

for TTBB soloists, male chorus, organ & orchestra, S12 (1867-68; Libera me 1871)
Alfonz Bartha (tenor); Sándor Palcsó (tenor); Zsolt Bende (baritone); Peter Kovács (bass); Hungarian Army Male Chorus; Sándor Margittay (organ) conducted by János Ferencsik.
ADD, recorded circa 1966 on Hungaroton Classic HCD 11267. 

Christus (A highly recommended work and recording)

Oratorio: for SATB soloists, choir and orchestra, S3 (1855-67)
Henriette Bonde-Hansen (soprano); Iris Vermillion (mezzo); Michael Schade (tenor); Andreas Schmidt (bass); Gächinger Kantorei, Stuttgart; Krakauer Kammerchor; Stuttgart RSO conducted by Helmuth Rilling.
DDD, recorded at Beethovensaal Liederhalle, Stuttgart, Germany in 1997 on Brilliant Classics 99951 (also available on Hänssler Classics 98121). Review

Saint Elizabeth (Legend of the Saint Elizabeth) (A highly recommended work and recording)

Oratorio: for soloists, chorus and orchestra, S2 (1857-62)
Eva Farkas (mezzo); Sándor Sólyom-Nagy (baritone); József Gregor (bass); István Gáti (baritone); Kolos Kováts (bass); Eva Martón (soprano); Hungarian Army Male Chorus; Budapest Chorus; Nyíregyháza Children's Chorus; Hungarian State Orchestra conducted by Árpád Joó. DDD, recorded 1984 on Hungaroton Classic HCD 12694-96. 

Via Crucis (The way of the cross)

for solo voices, chorus and organ, S53 (1876-78)
Budapest Chorus and Soloists, conducted by Miklós Szabó with Gábor Lehotka (organ). The cast includes the eminent soprano Éva Marton.
ADD remastered, recorded in September 1971 at the Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary on Hungaroton ‘White Label’ HRC 145 (c/w Szekszárd Mass, S8/2). 

Missa Choralis (Messe de Jubilé)

for mixed choir, vocal solos and organ, S10 (1865)
The Corydon Singers directed by Matthew Best with Thomas trotter, organist.
DDD, recorded at St Alban's Church, Holborn, London in 2000 on Hyperion CDA67199 (c/w Via Crucis, S53). 

Szekszárd Mass

for four-part male chorus, solo quartet and organ, S8/2 (1848 version S8/1; second version S8/2 1869)
Male Chorus of the Hungarian People’s Army and soloists conducted by István Kis;
with Gábor Lehotka (organ).
ADD remastered, recorded circa 1989 on Hungaroton ‘White Label’ HRC 145 (c/w Via Crucis, S53). 

St. Stanislaus

Oratorio: unfinished, S688 (presented in two completed scenes) (1873-85; Salve Polonia, S113 1863; De Profundis, S16 1881)

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, May Festival Chorus and soloists conducted by James Conlon.

DDD, recorded at Cincinnati, Ohio, USA in 2003 on Telarc CD-80607. 

Recommended Orchestral Works: 

A Faust Symphony (A highly recommend work and recordings)

Three character pictures after Goethe, S108 (1854; final chorus added 1857) 

a) Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, conductor Leonard Bernstein, with Kenneth Riegel (tenor)
ADD remastered, recording at Symphony Hall, Boston, USA in 1976 on Deutsche Grammophon ‘Galleria’ 431 470-2.

b) Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Men's Chorus of the Slovak Philharmonic, Bratislava conducted by James Conlon, with John Aler (tenor).
DDD, recorded at Doelen, Rotterdam, Holland in 1983 on Erato ECD 88068 (re-issued on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 2564-61460-2)

Dante Symphony (A highly recommend work and recording)

A Symphony to Dante’s ’Divine Comedy’, S109 (1855-56)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Choeur de Concert de Helmond conducted by James Conlon.
DDD, recorded circa 1986 on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 0927-49816-2.

Recommended Dramatic Work: 

Don Sanche or (The Castle of Love) (A highly recommend work and recording)
Opera in one act, sung in French, S1 (1824-25)
Julia Hamari (mezzo); István Gáti (baritone); Gérard Garino (tenor); Katalin Farkas (soprano); Iidiko Komlósi (mezzo); Hungarian State Opera Orchestra & Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus, conducted by Tamás Pál.
DDD, recorded circa 1986 on Hungaroton HCD 12744-45-2.

Recommended Vocal Works:

Lieder (Highly recommend works and recording)
Die Loreley; Du bist wie eine Blume; S'il est un charmant gazon; Im Rhein im schönen Strome; Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh; Der du von dem Himmel bist; Es war ein König in Thule; Freudvoll und leidvoll; Die Drei Zigeuner; Das Veilchen; Die Vätergruft; Die Fischerstochter
Dame Janet Baker (mezzo); Geoffrey Parsons (piano)

ADD remastered, recorded at Abbey Road studios, London 1979-80 from EMI Classics 5 73836-2 (c/w Lieder Schumann & Mendelssohn).

Recommended Chamber Works: 

Complete Music for Cello and Piano:
La Lugubre Gondola, S200 (1882); Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S382 (song, S274 1841, arr. 1880); Romance Oubliee, S132 (1880); Elegie No. 1, S130 (1874); Elegie No. 2, S131 (1877)
Norman Fischer (cello) & Jeanne Kierman (piano)
DDD, recorded at Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA in 2002 on Bridge Records 9187 (c/w Chopin Cello Sonata, Op. 65; Polanaise brillante, Op. 3 & Grand Duo Concertant).

Recommended Instrumental Works: 

Organ (Highly recommend works and recording)
Prelude and Fugue on the name of B.A.C.H., S180; Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Lamenting, Sorrows, Fear), S180; Fantasia and Fugue on the chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam (To us, to the water of salvation), S259 Hans-Jürgen Kaiser (organ)
DDD, recorded in 1997 on the Frederich Ladegast organ, Dom in Schwerin, Germany on Brilliant Classics SACD 92208.



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