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BOLET Rediscovered LISZT Recital
Franz LISZT (1811-86) Liebestraum, S541 No. 1. Trois Etudes de concert, S145. Harmonies poétiques et réligeuses - No. 7, Funérailles. Grands Etudes de Paganini, S140 - No. 3, La campanella. Grand Galop chromatique, S219. Rhapsodie espagnole, S254. WAGNER/LISZT Tannhaüser Overture.
Jorge Bolet (piano).
Recorded in RCA Studio A, New York on August 22nd-24th, 1972 and July 16th, 1973 (Tannhaüser Overture).
RCA Red Seal 09026 63748-2 [ADD] [52'23]
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Bolet played in the Grand Tradition of pianists such as Godowsky and Rosenthal. Of all the composers whose music he presented in recital, he seemed particularly close to the music of Franz Liszt. His singing, legato cantabile, his refusal to make an ugly sound and, most of all, his conviction that Liszt's music is truly great (and that mere empty virtuoso show is for lesser mortals) all contributed to the special force of his performances. Anyone who was privileged to hear him live would testify to his passionate devotion to the cause of the Romantic movement.

Jon M. Samuels, in his booklet note to this release, outlines the history of the present recital. Apparently Bolet was due to record enough for a multi-LP issue, which never saw the light of day, until Samuels discovered the rejected tracks last year.

And this is a gem of a Liszt recital, recommendable not only to pianophiles, but to all lovers of the Romantic period. The Liebestraum No. 3 (a Bolet favourite on the concert platform and in the recording studio) is characterised by a singing, almost vocal line and an incredibly sensitive rubato. As it reaches its climax, there is not so much as a hint of Bolet's straining his tone. There are so many recordings of this piece in the catalogue as to make comparison impossible: especially as Bolet makes the listener believe at the time that his way is the only way.

This supreme cantabile returns to enchant in Un sospiro, the third of the Etudes de Concert, S144. Similarly, in the extended Funérailles, Bolet rises supremely to the lyric challenge. He seems almost to narrate the long, lyrical lines (whichever register the theme happens to occur in), simultaneously being possessed of a complete grasp of the structural shape, so that the tremendously large sonorities of the climax are almost overbearing in their impact. The full tone he possessed gives a sense of the highest integrity to this moment. His account can easily be spoken of in the same breath as those by Ogdon, Arrau and Berman.

The inclusion of the virtuoso Grand Galop chromatique, S219 is ingenious. Bolet treats this often-abused piece with the greatest respect and as a result his reading has real integrity. The peroration, which can sound crass, seems perfectly natural here. The Rhapsodie espagnole, S254 which follows acts as a summation of Bolet's credentials as a Lisztian. This is stunning pianism that never overwhelms but rather enhances the musical content. By the close, one really does feel like applauding: which has the happy bonus of making the final item, the Wagner/Liszt Tannhäuser transcription, seem like an encore.

There is another story linked to this: after a recording session on July 16th, 1973, Bolet played through this transcription on impulse. The engineers (who were using two machines in tandem) managed to get a complete performance together only by overlapping the recordings from the two machines. This is an unedited account, and whilst there are some 'handfuls' along the way, they only add to the spur-of-the-moment feel. What is equally remarkable is the prayer-like atmosphere of the opening, immediately completely rapt and full of concentration.

The quirky lengthening of the first of the group of triplets in the main Tannhäuser theme is something I remember from a live performance he gave in the Festival Hall some years back now. There again, the same identification with Liszt's aesthetic was in evidence.

This is a wonderful disc.

Colin Clarke

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