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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Harmonies Poètiques et Réligieuses (1845-52):-
Ave Maria
Pensée des morts
Pater noster
Hymne de l’enfant à son réveil
Miserere d’après Palestrina
Andante lagrimoso
Cantique d’amour

David Barela (piano)
Rec. 2003 DDD
DGB RECORDS 29757 28022 [77.57]

The Harmonies Poètiques et Réligieuses comprise ten pieces which play for well in excess of an hour. The music was composed and variously revised over a period of some ten years through to the early 1850s, when Liszt gave up his itinerant lifestyle and settled as Kapellmeister at Weimar. This was the time when he gave himself over to final, published versions of the piano works that had evolved during the earlier phase of his career. Of this phenomenon the Harmonies represent a particularly important example.

However, over the years this music has been indifferently served in the recorded music catalogues. Some of the pieces, and arguably the best ones, have become well known in their own right, while others have remained shrouded in obscurity. Therefore we have every reason to be grateful to David Barela, the pianist and the driving force behind this new recording.

Aside from the performances, there is an obvious, even glaring, flaw, in that the third number of the sequence, and arguably the best all the pieces, has been omitted: Benédiction de Dieu dans la solitude. It is admitted in the accompanying notes that the reason is that of space, but surely in this day and age that is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The production of discs is not so costly as to preclude two together in a single issue available at a lower price, or as two for the price of one. But there is the rub. This disc is a small scale affair, in that Barela himself seems to be the force behind the project, and not simply the artist.

This drawback means that the attraction of acquiring the complete set immediately disappears, although Liszt enthusiasts may well already have the missing piece in their collections. It is, after all, well known in its own right; we are not dealing with the concept of a unified cycle here.

Barela’s playing is committed and sonorous, with appropriately slow tempi and pensive phrasing when required. And this is the trend for much of the time, hence the collection’s overall title. In terms of sound, the bass end of the recorded perspective fares much better than the treble, which often seems artificial in tone. This weighting has the advantage of adding to the serious tone of the music, but in the larger pieces such as the thirteen-minute Funérailles the atmosphere created is less than convincing. It also undermines the structural strength of the music.

At extremes of tempo the great artists can really make their mark, with displays of dexterity or of concentration, as the case may be. Barela is an admirable musician, to be sure, but he has not yet gained an international reputation, while these performances are not always as intense as they might be in their concentrated feeling.

The packaging reflects the limitations already noted. For there is no plastic case, but rather merely a thin cardboard sleeve containing some brief notes printed in a tiny font size on a dark, patterned background. Therefore the information is hard to read. With these various limitations, this issue cannot be confidently recommended, although in some respects it can be counted a ‘near miss’.

Terry Barfoot



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