Franz LISZT (1811-86)
Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree).
Ballades - No. 1 in D flat; No. 2 in B
Chandos CHAN6629 [ADD]
Liszt's set of Christmas pieces, Weihnachtsbaum, (written in 1874-6
for his granddaughter) has never gained a strong foothold in the repertoire.
By its very nature, it is bound by the seasons: but there is more to it than
this. It seems to represent the various faces of Liszt in one piece. So it
moves from the simple presentation of Die Hirten an der Krippe (the
third movement, a charming version of In dulci jubilo) to the
Bartók-like Scherzoso fifth movement or the spare textures of the
second, O heilige Nacht. The ninth movement, Abendglocken,
is the epitome of Christmas with its tinkling, music-box sonorities.
There is a change of compositional direction in the final three pieces of
the Suite, however, with the Liszt of Nuages gris and the like to
the fore: Ehemals!: Jadis ('Long ago') is desolate and disjunct while
Ungarisch is a deconstructed, disembodied march.
Gillespie is capable of moments of tenderness and is best in the simply presented
movements. She experiences some technical difficulties along the way, however,
a failing which becomes more apparent in the two Ballades. The Second,
the longer of the two by some way, finds her once more shading some passages
fetchingly, but overall Gillespie fails to accord the piece the weight its
If the Ballades take your interest, Stephen Hough has just recorded
them for Hyperion
coupled with the B minor Sonata). For Weihnachtsbaum, Leslie Howard
would be a safer choice.