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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
"The Timeless Madonna"

Ave Maria in E - "Die Glocken von Rom" S.182 (1862) (8.03) *
Ave Maris Stella, S. 34/1 (1871) (5.07)
Ave Maris Stella, S. 34/2 (1871) (8.00)*
Ave Maria II, S. 38 (1869) (2.48)
Ave Maria II, S. 342 (1884) (6.45)*
Ave Maria I, S. 20/1 (1846) (4.28)
Ave Maria I (from Harmonies Poètiques et Réligieuses), S.154 (1852) (7.50)*
Ave Maria IV, (1881) (2.09) ‡
Ave Maria IV, (1881) (2.53)*
Rosario, S. 56 (1879) (8.32)
Inno a Maria Virgine, S. 39 (1869) (8.51) ¤ †
Ave Maria - [after Arcadelt] , S. 659 (1832) (6.03) ¤
Jacques ARCADELT (1505 - 1568)
Ave Maria (1.47)
‡John Reschl, baritone. *Mary Kay Kapustka, solo piano.
¤Francis Slechta, solo organ. †Don Hilsberg, harp
Church of the Holy Ghost choir/Richard Robertson, conductor and organ
Notes in English. Text: Luke 1:28,41 and the Council of Ephesus, translated.
Recorded at Denver Center for Liszt Studies, January, 2002, and Church of the Holy Ghost, Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. February 2002
LISZT DIGITAL LD002 (73.27)

AVAILABILITY 

http://www.lisztdigital.com

Comparison recordings: Hungarian State Chorus, conducted by Gábor Ugrin. Hungaroton HCD 31103 (S20, 56, 39, 34/1) [DDD]

The first time I heard the Gounod Ave Maria played on the organ I was 8 years old and I thought the music was so beautiful and mysterious. Never mind that it was a mechanical organ at a museum that had once been the home of a very rich man. But surely a CD entirely of Ave Marias will have a limited audience today? Some Buddhists or Muslims might be moved to feel pity that anyone could be so misguided, but many fundamentalist Christians might even become angry at what they would consider gross Paganism. During Liszt’s lifetime his religiosity was assumed by his more severe critics to be a pose and an imposture designed to deceive. Perhaps you recall in the "Wagner" movie, Richard Burton in the character of Wagner says of Liszt something like: "The life he’s led! And now he wants to play me his latest Ave Maria!" The accompanying gesture is one of amazement and disgust.

But Liszt was unusual precisely because he did truly believe. Through his music Liszt conversed directly with God and he had no patience for human rules, formulas, church bureaucrats, or bad music hiding behind sacred words. When in Rome he would drop in on his old buddy the Pope and chat with him as with any friend — and usually play the piano, and for that piano playing even the Pope would put up with anything. Cheerful words and a slap on the back were good enough for the Pope, and Liszt’s Ave Marias are good enough music to merit the attention of the ghosts of Wesley and Calvin as well as of atheists and agnostics who love music.

After all, Christians listen to masses by atheists like Berlioz and Vaughan Williams, as well as the oratorios of the Jewish Handel and Mendelssohn. Music is more sacred than religion. Religion has always sought to absorb music because it envies it that sacredness. And this disk is a musical journey in the company of one who has seen many beautiful things and wants to share them with us as clearly as possible. That applies not only to Liszt but also to the guiding spirit behind this production, Ms. Mary Kay Kapustka who plays the piano arrangements which make up much of this CD. Her playing lacks the fleetness, polish, and grace of Horowitz, but no-one plays this music with more sincerity or commitment. The chorus sings effectively and clearly without excesses of any kind. This is a statement of music by a religious man, not a sectarian service, and as such its appeal is universal, as was, for example, a recent similar album by the "Anonymous 4."

The Hungarians, to whose fervent Catholicism the religious music of Liszt has always appealed, in their recording, use a larger chorus and sing with more Old World religiosity and with a more reverberant setting, which means the musical lines are not quite so clear although the drama and passion are stronger. Their timings are actually very slightly less than the Denverites. Your choice.

Paul Shoemaker



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