I do not know if Hyperion
is launching a second complete cycle
of Liszt’s piano works. However this
present CD is the second offering by
Stephen Hough. Already released is ‘Sonatas,
Ballades and Polonaises’. Considering
the quality of the playing here I find
it difficult to imagine that once the
disc is heard the customer will not
‘demand’ the other two Années
are certainly amongst my Desert Island
choices; at least as long as I can have
all three, the Venezia and Napoli
supplement along with those pieces that
were precursors, sketches and alternatives
- and not forgetting those numbers that
were never issued. For me they epitomise
romantic piano music. The excellent
sleeve-notes express this better than
I can – "[The Années]
enshrine many of the central features
of Romanticism, capturing the desire
to wander, the search for beautiful
landscapes and fusion with nature, the
fertilization of music with literary
and other cultural associations, as
well as the journey of discovery, both
outward (the physical exploration) and
inward (the sense of personal pilgrimage).
The models for these pieces are both
visual and literary, and Liszt’s music
embodies a typically Romantic blend
of evocative pictorialism and personalized
There are some thirteen
versions of the complete Années
de Pèlerinage - Suisse to
choose from. And some of the contenders
are really big names. Currently available
versions include Alfred Brendel, Jorge
Bolet, Jeno Jandó and Lazar Berman.
And Hyperion's own Leslie Howard has
covered this work in his fifty-something
volume survey of the complete piano
works. Just out of curiosity the same
database gives fourteen versions of
the Deuxième Annèe
and ten of the Troisième.
This compares to 174 recordings of Liebsträume!
It is quite impossible
to highlight everything that is good
in this recording; however a few pointers
may not go amiss.
The Chapelle de
Guillaume Tell gets the recital
off to a great start. The work opens
quite quietly but soon builds up into
a stunning display of octaves and hard-won
chords. The magic of the piece, however,
is in the transformation back to the
opening phrase by way of wonderful arpeggios.
Hough manages to depict
the Alpine storm effectively in Orage.
This music is truly scary and must
be listened to on a windy dark night!
I love Hough’s version
of the Au Lac de Wallenstadt.
This was derived from an earlier collection
by the composer called Album d’un
Voyageur. The ‘Au Lac’ work
recalled the shared moments between
Liszt and his mistress the Countess
The heart of this Première
Année is the Vallée
d’Obermann which has a certain ‘Byronic
gloom’ but never fails to express wonder
at the ‘impenetrable grandeur of nature’.
My own particular favourite
is the gorgeous Au bord d’une source.
This is one of the finest pieces of
water music ever composed. Just listening
to it on a hot summer’s day makes one
feel deliciously cool. And Hough did
not disappoint me.
For me the great discovery
on this CD is the wonderful Opera
Paraphrases 'after' Charles Gounod.
If anyone were to ask me my opinion
about Gounod it would be that I did
not really enjoy his music. I accept
that there are some gorgeous moments
in his operas and a few minor piano
and organ pieces have appeared on my
music-stand over the years. But by and
large I would avoid him wherever possible.
Call it prejudice if you like, but then
again opera is not my cup of tea. However,
in my opinion, these three paraphrases
provide the listener with 'all the Gounod
you will ever need!'
The three transcriptions
can only be described as heart-achingly
beautiful. The Les Adieux - is
based on motifs from the balcony scene
of the largely forgotten opera Roméo
et Juliette. This should be in everyone’s
top twenty of all-time romantic piano
The Valse de l'opéra
- Faust is a masterpiece. From start
to finish this embodies the extrovert
and flamboyant Liszt. Here the pianist
uses every trick in the book to fill
out and decorate the relatively trite
original tune. Surely if ever there
was a concert crowd-puller it is this.
It builds from a subdued start to a
pyrotechnical ‘big finish’, with lots
of reflective passages in between.
The short but very
beautiful Les Sabéennes -
Berceuse from the also forgotten
opera The Queen of Sheba brings
this fantastic CD to a meditative close.
It is difficult to
recommend any single version of a work
as great as the Première Année
– Suisse. I like Brendel and Howard
on this. A friend swears by Bolet. However
it is not the sort of music that completely
and definitively reveals itself with
just one interpreter. I have about six
versions of the Première Année
in my collection. Every one of them
discloses something new and exiting
about this work. However I would heartily
recommend this present version for anyone
who has not got this work in their collection
and would certainly recommend that it
be added to the libraries of those for
whom these pieces are old favourites.
Hough seems to capture the romantic
spirit of this cycle so effectively.
He masterfully achieves that just balance
of lyricism and pyrotechnics so necessary
to the successful playing of Liszt’s