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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Works for Organ, Vol. 1

Präludium und Fuge über den Namen BACH, S260/R381
Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine, S658/R400 (1862)
Consolation in D-flat Major: Cantabile con divozione, S172/R12 (1850)
Consolation in E Major: Tröstung: Allegretto, S172/R12 (1850)
Consolation in E Major: Andantino, S172/R12 (1850)
Legende: Saint François d'Assise: la prédication aux oiseau, S175/R17 (1880)
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, S180/R24 (1863)
Andreas Rothkopf (organ)
Rec. November 1999 at St Peter's Cathedral, Bremen, Germany
NAXOS 8.554544 [62.17]

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Franz LISZT, although Hungarian by birth, studied with Czerny in Vienna and later moved to Paris where he taught and impressed audiences with virtuoso performances. His compositions included a number of transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies. In 1848, he moved to Weimar and turned his attention to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem and revision of earlier compositions. In 1861, Liszt moved to Rome where he pursued a religious interest. A year later he wrote his Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine at the age of 51. Rome's fascination soon waned, however, and Liszt eventually returned to Hungary where his father had always lived.

Präludium und Fuge über den Namen BACH,

This is a sombre and dark work, written in 1855 and modified in 1870. It was apparently intended for the inauguration of a new organ in Merseburg Cathedral. The work is more a fantasia which includes a fugue. It opens with a Bach motif that is then is transposed in different figuration and harmonics. An Andante leads into the Fugue. The fugal subject starts with a murmur in the bass register marked 'misterioso'. The section unwinds shifting from key to key in varied figuration but always dominated by the Bach motif -a torment of the soul perhaps? The work is powerful, and within it strong emotions are expressed by Liszt.

Inspiration for writing the Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine, comes from Liszt's three-year stay in Rome. The form is that of a fantasia consisting of two alternating sections. The first is based on a setting of a Miserere (by Allegri) that had been the exclusive property of the Sistine Chapel until written out from memory by Mozart. The second much lighter section is based on Mozart's Ave verum, and provides a contrast with the first. A sturdy opening leads into a short theme that brightens to form the focus of the main section. The Ave verum follows with its simplistic and memorable theme offering a sense of innocence and purity. Of its closing section, Liszt explained that 'human anguish is being answered by the infinite mercy of the Almighty'.

Liszt's Consolations were conceived in 1850 as a set of six piano pieces. The Consolation in D-flat Major and second of two Consolations in E Major (Andantino) were arranged for the organ by Liszt himself, but the first of the Consolations in E Major, (the Allegretto) is believed to have been transcribed by someone else. (The Notes do not state how close this transcription resembles the original piano version: this might have been an interesting point.). The Consolation in D-flat Major is unmemorable and drifts into unsuspecting obscurity. The Consolation in E Major (Allegretto) is elegant and delicate with a fine sense of purpose. The Consolation in E Major (Allegretto) has an engagingly light and haunting theme.

The Franciscan Legends: St Francis preaching to the birds was written when Liszt took refuge at a monastery following the death of his daughter in 1863. The Franciscans' way of life had been familiar to him through an earlier association with them in Hungary. The piece, transcribed for the organ in 1880, utilises a theme from an earlier choral work, Cantico del Sol di San Francesco d'Assisi. The song of the birds (after Messiaen rather than Respighi) is dampened by the solemn preaching of the Saint as he stands in a field holding them spellbound. It is a clever little piece which utilises Flute, Piccolo and Stiffoete ranks of pipes to good effect.

A series of ponderous variations, Weeping, Lamenting, Sorrow and Fear are constructed on a framework provided by Bach's cantata (same name) and a similar line of the Crucifixus in the Mass in B Minor. It may be seen as a response to the recent deaths of Liszt's son (1859) and daughter (1863). The work is dedicated to Rubinstein. Weeping opens unexpectedly and powerfully with a series of chords which fade away. A light and dreamily plaintive main theme in minor key then follows. The ending hangs and is resolved by the opening chord of Lamenting. Lamenting is continues in a stronger, equally heavy manner. A deep sense of heaving and groaning is portrayed by falling chromatic scales. Sorrow is characterised by a languid hymn-like pastorale. Fear is characterised by rising chromatic phrases in the bass register before our plaintive theme again drifts into existence and slows into an ending equally as dark as the beginning.

This is a recording for the organ specialist rather than casual listening. Organists will be interested in hearing the St Peter's organ finely played by Andreas Rothkopf. Various organs have been installed in the cathedral and rebuilt over the centuries. The present instrument was built by Wilhelm Sauer (Frankfurt) in 1893. It was rebuilt and enlarged to include 98 stops in 1939 and after war damage it was changed over to electro-pneumatic traction in 1958. This 1999 recording is distantly miked, which enhances the chromatic scales to good effect and clearly reveals the power of this wonderful organ, its bass registers being provided by 32ft pipes. [Separate track numbers, without pause, would have been sensible for the Weeping, Lamenting, Sorrow, and Fear variations to allow clear identification of the parts.]

The disc carries an adequate booklet on composer and works with an additional detailed English only description and specification of the Great Organ at St Peter's Cathedral. Condensed notes in French and German are also included.

Raymond Walker

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