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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Les Préludes

Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Rec November 1999, Nalepastraße, Berlin
BIS CD1117 [66.23]
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During the 1850s, when he worked as kapellmeister at Weimar, Liszt composed a series of twelve symphonic poems (a thirteenth followed later), and in doing so he invented the term itself. Les Préludes, the third of these works, was begun in 1848 and then revised a few years later, the final version dating from 1853. It soon became what it has remained ever since: one of his best-loved compositions.

It is not hard to understand why. The music relies on his favoured principle of development, the 'metamorphosis of themes', and the close organic unity is allied to distinctive melodic invention, to create a vivid orchestral environment. All these strengths are readily apparent in Frühbeck de Burgos's performance with the excellent Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, in a typically truthful and ambient BIS recording.

The other work in this collection which combines both variety and unity at the highest level of inspiration is less celebrated but equally successful artistically: Tasso, Lament and Triumph. Perhaps this is harder to bring off because of its more extended scale, but bring it off these performers certainly do. The final apotheosis, the triumph that follows the lament, is particularly compelling, with blazing brass and a cogent sense of musical fulfilment.

Festklänge is altogether less well known, and it is also altogether less successful in reconciling the imagery behind the concept - the 'festive sounds' - with a tight and imaginative development of the material. The latter is, if anything, somewhat banal, and the piece is repetitive, not really sustaining its twenty minute duration. The performance fails to catch fire, nor is it sonically spectacular enough to make a real impact. Frühbeck de Burgos, so convincing elsewhere, is less so here, but nor does Haitink with the LPO (on Philips) fare any better. Perhaps the problem lies more with the music than with the performance, though it might lie with the reviewer, of course.

The best of these four performances is that of the shortest item, the ten-minute long Orpheus. This is a particularly lyrical composition, nicely shaped and well played, with some beautiful contributions from the wind principals in particular. The recorded sound captures the restrained atmosphere with much sensitivity.


Terry Barfoot

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