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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Sonata in B minor (185) [33:38]
Grandes Etudes de Paganini (c.1848) [24:03]
George-Emmanuel Lazaridis (piano)
rec. 15-18 May 2006, Snape Maltings. DDD
LINN CKD 282 [57:41]


There is of course far more to Liszt than the shallow, generally held view that he was a virtuoso first, a creative artist second. Not that there is anything wrong with virtuosity, which was a significant driving force during the romantic era. The concept of 'the artist as hero' remains potent to this day, not least when we encounter an artist who can do justice to the towering demands of the Paganini Studies. And there is no question that George-Emmanuel Lazaridis does so.

The recorded sound from Linn is excellent, finding that always elusive balance between detail and atmosphere. In fact this balance is a critical consideration in a recording of these compositions, whose emotional, technical and expressive range is so wide – this is so with the Sonata especially. For the piano tone sounds particularly well, and the first climactic section of the Sonata is thrilling in terms of both sonics and performance. Rarely can a piano recording have generated such sheer impact.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the Sonata in B minor is the summit of Liszt's achievement as a composer of piano music. He completed it in 1853, soon after he had settled at Weimar as Kapellmeister, and gave its dedication to another great piano-composer, Robert Schumann. The first performance took place in Berlin in 1857, when the pianist was Liszt's protégé, Hans von Bülow.

While undoubtedly a virtuoso showpiece for those talented enough to perform it, the Sonata is far more than a 'display of fireworks'. The music’s thirty-minute span contains an astonishingly wide range of moods, some of them inward and restrained. Moreover, the work closes with an extended epilogue, a veritable meditation. It is understandable, therefore that this music is the most challenging that Lazaridis performs in this new recording. He copes well with the demands, particularly so the technical demands, but technique is only the half of it. If there are doubts they lie in the direction of interpretation and concentration, rather than technique, and it is true that a great artist like, say, Jorge Bolet (Decca), can offer more insights.

The more obvious pyrotechnics of the Paganini Studies suit Lazaridis to perfection, as they did the composer-pianist before him. If it really was Liszt’s intention to make himself ‘the Paganini of the violin’ then this performance confirms it. The range of approaches exploits many aspects of the piano and Lazaridis is a match for them all. As an example, his poetic rendition of La Campanella is beautifully judged, and as such is the highlight of the whole disc.

Terry Barfoot






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