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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Dante Symphony, R426, (1857) [47’26”]
A La Chapelle Sixtine R445, (1862) [17’39”]
Les Preludes R414, (1854) [16’46”]
Orpheus R415, (1854) [11’23”]
Tasso R413, (1849) [19’26”]
Hungaria R420, (1854) [21’32”]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.1 G359/1 (1839) [11’59”]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 G359/4 (1841) [10’21”]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.3 G359/3 (1841) [8’30”]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.4 G359/2 (1842) [11’13”]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.5 G359/5 (1843) [10’11”]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 G359/6 Pester Carneval (1845) [13’27”]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat major (1849) [18’19”]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major (1857) [20’58”]
Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra (1849) [15’42”]
Wanderer Fantasie after Franz Schubert (before 1852) [22’00”]
Fantasie on Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens (1852) [11’08”]
Grande Fantaisie symphonique on Berlioz’s Lélio (1834) [24’35”]
Fantasia on Hungarian Folk-tunes (1852) [15’15”]
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Hartmut Haenchen
Hungarian State Orchestra/Janos Ferencsik (Symphonic Poems).
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Andras Korodi (Hungarian Rhapsodies)
Jeno Jando (piano)
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Andras Ligeti (Piano Concerti, Totentanz and Fantasies)
Rec. unknown except Concertgebouw Amsterdam 1995. (Dante Symphony; A la Chapelle Sixtine). DDD
CAPRICCIO 49 450 [5 CDs: 65’05” + 68’42” + 65’42” + 54’12” + 72’58”]


This is a very strange issue. It is entitled “Masterpieces” although in whose judgement this is, is very much in question. Many of these pieces could never, by any stretch of the imagination, be classified as the best works of the composer and so the title is immediately suspect. There are no piano solo pieces, (all are orchestral or orchestra and piano) and there is a very strange assortment of orchestras and conductors present. Also, apart from the first disc, which has previously been available as a Capriccio single issue, all of the others seem to be new, although with these artists, they could have been licensed from other labels.

In addition, there are far superior performances of almost all of these, also on cheaper labels, and apart from the cheap price of the current box, I can see little purpose in purchasing it.

The Dante Symphony is the one exception in terms of performance and recording. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic are set in the warm acoustic of the Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam which certainly aids and abets this performance. Comparing it with that of Kurt Masur on EMI I would place Haenchen ahead in terms of both fire and sensitivity. I enjoyed this disc very much, although as a masterpiece, wouldn’t the Faust Symphony have been a better choice? The fill-up orchestration of Liszt’s earlier organ work – A La Chapelle Sixtine - is worth having ... but a masterpiece?

Moving on to the symphonic poems, I am reminded of a very much earlier record (on vinyl) of the same artists doing much the same repertoire. It was briefly available in the UK on the Hungaroton label and what a difference. The rhythms were much more alive then, and even the dim recording gave an impression of an orchestra really committed to the music, rather than just a run-through, albeit a good one, well recorded. When one compares these to the likes of Masur there really is no comparison. Masur is well recorded and his version is at budget price and has the Leipzig Gewandhaus no less in cracking form. Even Haitink (Philips) who is not the most dynamic of conductors in this repertoire achieves a better structure and flow than the version on the current disc.

There are many discs available of the six Hungarian Rhapsodies. These pieces really need an inspired conductor rather than a good one. Here, I would go for Ivan Fischer with his Budapest Festival Orchestra - better by far. Failing that, Dorati on Mercury (if it still available) is an excellent choice, albeit not at budget price.

With the concertos, there is a clear best choice in Sviatoslav Richter on Philips with Kondrashin and the London Symphony Orchestra. These performances have more or less been top of the pile for many years, and hearing them again, one is left in no two minds why. Good though Jando is, he is no match for the Russian master. Much the same goes for the Totentanz when compared with Georgy Cziffra with the Philharmonia Orchestra and André Vandernoot.

In these performances, Jando is up to his normal good standard, but for sheer massed voltage his compatriot Cziffra, more than has the edge. In this company Jandó is somewhat four-square.

Finally, we reach the fantasias. It was a good idea to collect four of the composer’s more memorable orchestral/piano transcriptions of works by other composers. I found the Liszt transcription of Liszt the best, perhaps predictable. Here, the competition is severe. I am afraid that Jando, good as he is, is no match for competitors such as Katchen and Gamba on Decca, or Cherkassky and Karajan on DG, to name just two. There are a lot more.

With the remaining transcriptions, there is less competition and I could quite happily live with these.

So there you have it – a collection of not so much masterpieces as of orchestral pieces that Capriccio could get their hands on to issue in a cheap box in up to date excellent digital recordings.

The performances are all reasonable, but in all cases there are substantially better recordings around which if bought separately, might cost a little bit more, but would give a much more satisfactory selection ... always given that you agree with Capriccio and consider them all to be Masterpieces in the first place.

John Phillips






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