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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
†Hungarian Rhapsody # 6, S 244/f (1853) [7.12]
†Hungarian Rhapsody #15, S 244/o (1871) [4.58]
Valse Impromptu, S 213 (1852) [5.53]
†Consolation #2, S 172/b (1850) [2.57]
†Consolation #3, S 172/c (1850) [4.21]
Rigoletto Concert Paraphrase, S 434 (1859) [6.53]
La Campanella, S 420 (1834) [4.52]
Don Juan Fantasy, S 418 (1843) [17.34]
‡Polonaise #2 in E, S 223/b (1851) [9.01]
§St. Francis of Paola Striding Upon the Tides, S 175/b (1863) [8.50]
§Paganini Etude #2 in Eb, S 140/b (1838) [4.50]
Tamás Vásáry, piano
Recorded Kulturraum, Baumberg, Germany, May 1959 (Stereo) §; Große Musikhalle, Hamburg, Germany, July 1957 (monophonic) †; Beethoven-Saal, Hannover, Germany, May 1961 (stereo) ‡
Program notes in English, Deutsch, Français. Photo of Vásáry.
‘The Originals’ series
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 423-2 [77.11]

Comparison recordings:
Don Juan Fantasy, Earl Wild Vanguard/Omega
Polonaise #2 in E, György Cziffra Philips
St. Francis de Paule marchant sur les flots, Erwin Nyiregyházi (live 1974) IPA/Desmar
Rigoletto Fantasy, George Bolet IPA
Consolations, Catherine vanLoo N/A

Considering myself a serious Liszt student and revering Tamás Vásáry as the very greatest of pianists for Chopin,* I approached this disk with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. Vásáry’s approach to this music is to play it the way a pianist trained in the classic tradition would have played it at the time it was composed. That is, he plays Chopin as though it were Schubert, with amazingly insightful results; and plays Liszt the way Clara Schumann would have played it — remember that the Transcendental Etudes were dedicated to her. What’s wrong with the way other pianists play it? They approach from the wrong end, from the future as it were, and consider the piano a tone painting instrument, a primitive synthesiser, rather than a sort of softened up harpsichord, and tend to overly shape phrases and tones. They throw a few notes under the table for effect, and like to smear things out with lots of pedal and lingering fingering, rather than clearly articulate each and every note as written. This is not to say there aren’t many magnificent Liszt interpreters in this situation, and the argument of just how Liszt wanted his works played can go on forever with Liszt not here to set things straight. But with Vásáry we hear them as they were played, at least by pianists other than Liszt. And certainly Liszt, too, at times, at the very least in the early days.

One result of this is that Vásáry’s St. Francis is at the opposite pole from the famous Nyiregyházi pirate recording. That one all but ignores classical piano technique to provide an almost orgiastic tone painting, while this one is very clearly somebody playing a piano and you never for a second forget it. Which is better? I wouldn’t be without either one. The music of a genius by definition can embrace, in fact requires, a multiplicity of approaches.

Vásáry’s Consolations are beautifully and touchingly played—not so lovingly and reflectively as Catherine vanLoo’s, although her timings are only very slightly longer.

Vásáry’s is the best performance of the Hungarian Rhapsody #15 I’ve ever heard, and in fact all of these performances are excellent and sufficiently close to the best available to make this a highly recommendable release. And the nice thing is there’s enough Vásáry in the DG vaults for a volume 2! For those of you who enjoy the thrill of the hunt, I’ve given a list of all time great performances above, but they will tax the most determined of you as they are long, long out of print. It’s probably best to look for them to show up on "Great Pianists" or International Piano Archive reissues. The vanLoo recording, one of the very, very finest, is so far out of print I cannot find it listed in any catalogue anywhere. Good Hunting!

*His Schubertian/Hoffmanian recording of the Chopin’s four Scherzi is an amazing document, as they say, a real eye-opener. So why hasn’t it been made available on CD? DGG are you listening?

Paul Shoemaker



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