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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Symphonic Poem No. 1: Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne, S 95 (1857) [29.13]
Symphonic Poem No. 7: Festklänge, S 101 (1853) [18.57]
Symphonic Poem No. 11: Hunnenschlacht, S 105 (1857) [14.24]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Michael Halász
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 26 May 2005
Notes in English
NAXOS 8.557846 [62.35] 


Comparison Recordings:

Complete Tone Poems: Budapest SO/Árpad Joó. Hungaroton 12677/81 {Also available on Brilliant Classics 99938}

Gewandhaus SO/Kurt Masur EMI [ADD]/[DDD] 7243 5 74521 2 0 {Also available on Musical Heritage Society [ADD] 522171L & [DDD] 522534M, North America Only}

Hunnenschlacht: VSOO/Hermann Scherchen. [ADD] Westminster MCAD2-9832 {soon to be re-released by TAHRA records}

LPO/Bernard Haitink. [ADD] Philips 438754

The Symphonic Poems of Liszt vary in their degree of familiarity although integral recordings have been more common lately, of which this disk appears to be one installment.  These three are among the less well known, but each is particularly interesting in different ways.  Festklänge (Festival sounds) is based on a tune, presumably an East European folk-song, which later* became the Canadian national anthem.  Liszt’s work, sure enough, at one point plays the tune with all due importance and dignity, and develops this theme along with several others.

Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (What you hear in the Mountains), based on a poem by Victor Hugo, seems at first to be more about the ocean than about mountains but when we read the poem we see that the mountain is right on the coast of Brittany and it is from there that we ascend to the heights whereupon we encounter, among other things, shepherd’s pipes and pre-echoes of Sibelius’s First Symphony.  What the poet hears is the collective pleading voice of suffering humanity rising from the earth to be answered by the sounds of the angelic chorus descending from heaven, which is unheard on earth below because of the clamor of human lamentations.  Naxos has posted the poem in English on their website

Hunnenschlacht (Battle against the Huns) describes violent warfare and employs the organ playing a Christian hymn in the finale to symbolize the defeat and conversion of the invading Huns.  The organ here is a real one but rather subtle.  For a huge pipe organ and a brilliant performance, try Bernard Haitink and the LPO.  Scherchen uses a small squeaky stage organ, but adopts a punishing tempo which has the orchestra struggling to keep up, creating an authentic and exciting sense of battle. 

These recordings are excellent, and the performances are quite good, with big, loud cymbal crashes where called for; perhaps a little better than Masur, not quite so good as Arpad Joo, although the organ in Budapest is heard to be grotesquely out of tune, however ingeniously the artists cope with this problem.  All these versions are available at bargain prices.  But for some additional excitement listen to Solti or Haitink.

Paul Shoemaker

see also Review by Michael Cookson  

*Actually rather recently.  I attended one of the early public performances at the Vancouver Expo in 1986.  Although the first version was actually written in 1880, the official words of the current version (in both French and English) were legally adopted only in 1980.

Other Liszt Symphonic Poems are available from these artists on:

Naxos 8.550487: Tasso, Les Preludes, Mazeppa, Prometheus.

Naxos 8.553355: From the Cradle to the Grave, Orpheus, Die Ideale, Hamlet.


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