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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music Volume 29: Transcriptions for two pianos
Les Préludes, S637/R359 (1856) [15:17]
Orpheus, S638/R360 (1856) [9:46]
Mazeppa, S640/R362 (1857) [16:18]
Die Ideale, S646/R368 (1858) [24:17]
Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony (pianos)
rec. Clermont Concert Hall, The Buchman-Mehta School of Music, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, 19, 22, 26, 30 August 2007
NAXOS 8.570736 [65:49]
Experience Classicsonline

If you’ve been following Naxos’s fascinating series of Brahms’s music transcribed for two pianists, you’ll know that his first piano concerto may be found on both vol. 9 (Naxos 8.554116) and vol. 17 (Naxos 8.555849, reviewed here). That’s because the transcription of 1864 was for piano duet (four hands playing a single piano) while that of 1873 was for two pianists playing on two pianos.
Given the comparative rarity of middle class households that possessed two instruments, the transcription for a single piano was undoubtedly the most commercially viable for Brahms’s publishers. But listening to both versions side by side makes a convincing artistic case for using two separate pianos when replicating a score that was originally conceived for a full 19th century symphony orchestra.
It is, therefore, very important to make it clear that Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony are performing this music on two separate instruments, with all the increased flexibility, resources and, ultimately, power that that fact implies.
That issue of sheer power is, moreover, particularly important in the case of piano transcriptions of Liszt’s symphonic poems, many of which are, by their very nature, very melodramatic. Not for nothing was Liszt one of the most widely plundered composers when Hollywood needed cheap “filler” music for action scenes. When, for instance, in 1935 Erich Wolfgang Korngold found himself too short of time to compose original music for scenes of pirates looting and pillaging in Warner Brothers’ Captain Blood, he quickly utilised a few appropriate pages from the score of Mazeppa. And who can fail to make the indelible association between Les Préludes and Universal’s Flash Gordon serials of the late 1930s where they created a virtually constant aural background against which Buster Crabbe battled ceaselessly against Emperor Ming the Merciless?
Thankfully, Kanazawa and Admony do have the necessary power in their fingers to tackle the composer’s riper purple passages – and they’re even better in Liszt’s more reflective, lyrical passages. Past winners of the 2000 Tokyo International Piano Duo Competition, the 2001 Rome Prize, the 2002 IBLA Grand Prize and the Menuhin Gold Prize in the 2005 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition, this married couple clearly think as one and complement each other beautifully. It is hard to think that their performances on this disc could be bettered.
The trouble is, though, the music itself. It is virtually impossible - especially in the case of the most familiar work, Les Préludes – to avoid hearing the full orchestra in the mind’s ear so that the pianos-only version inevitably emerges as colourless in comparison. It is hard to escape the sad conclusion that Liszt saw the making of virtually literal transcriptions for piano as a simple money-making mechanism rather than as a genuine opportunity for artistic re-creativity.
Naxos had to have these works recorded regardless of their intrinsic worth. The company is, after all, committed to issuing a complete edition of Liszt’s piano music - of which this is volume 29. As such, they have employed two fine artists who have done a very good job and who have been well, if perhaps a little dryly, recorded.
I suspect, though, that this is a disc mainly of interest to those completing their Naxos/Liszt collection or to fans of piano duos. They will not be disappointed. The rest of us can, though, rest soundly in the knowledge that we are missing music that is, essentially, of peripheral interest and little real worth. This fact is tacitly recognised by Keith Anderson’s booklet notes that tell us a great deal about Liszt and his symphonic poems but add nothing specific at all about the rationale, characteristics and performance history of the piano transcriptions themselves. Perhaps, as I suspect, there was just nothing to say.
Rob Maynard


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