Although best known as a virtuoso pianist Liszt
was also a major influence as a progressive composer who, according
to Cecil Gray, created, “some of the greatest and most original
masterpieces of the nineteenth century.” A prolific and versatile
composer Liszt produced over seven hundred scores covering most
genres of which over half were for piano.
content of this budget-priced EMI box of five remastered discs
was recorded by Aldo Ciccolini at the Salle Wagram in Paris
over an eighteen year period between 1962-90. Naples-born in
1925, the French based Ciccolini become a French citizen in
1969 and taught at the Paris Conservatoire from 1970 to 1983.
A renowned performer of French music and also celebrated by
pianophiles as a Liszt specialist, he has over the years been
prolific in the recording studio.
first two discs feature Liszt’s colossal musical odyssey the
Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). Liszt
wrote the three books of the set intermittently over a forty
year period based on his experiences from his extensive European
travels. Ciccolini demonstrates a remarkable level of achievement
throughout a cycle that aptly showcases his gifts for sensitivity,
poetry and drama. I was left spellbound by the confidence and
power that Ciccolini displays in both the La chapelle de
Guillaume Tell and the extensive and highly romantic Vallée
third disc manages to accommodate all but one of the important
set of ten Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (Poetic
and religious harmonies) works written at various times
between 1847 and 1852. I especially enjoyed Ciccolini’s Bénédiction
de Dieu dans la solitude, a score that expresses sacred
contemplation, not unlike that found in Beethoven’s later string
quartets. It is regarded as one of Liszt’s greatest and most
original works. Another tremendous performance from Ciccolini
comes in the Funérailles, one of Liszt’s finest piano
scores. Biographer and composer Humphrey Searle called it a,
“heroic elegy”. Composed in 1849 in response to victims
of the Hungarian revolution of 1848-49 Funérailles ranks
as one of the more difficult works in solo piano repertoire.
Here Ciccolini is imperious, providing high drama and controlled
sensitivity throughout the exacting challenges arising from
the varying weight and tempi of this score.
disc four the highly popular Nocturne No. 3 in A flat from
the attractive set of Liebesträume (Dreams of Love)
is performed with a glorious flow of melody. Other highlights
are the Deux Légendes: Saint François d'Assise prêchant
aux oiseaux and the remarkable Saint François de Paule
marchant sur les flots scores that Humphrey Searle considered
to be, “of great beauty and interest”. These are astonishing
performances amd Ciccolini imparts the perfect combination of
delicacy and drama with episodes of visionary awareness.
fifth and final disc consists of seven Opera Paraphrases,
a genre that was Liszt’s vehicle for bringing popular operatic
works to a wider audience. Often dismissed as mere trifles these
Paraphrases are substantial scores to be taken seriously
and will provide delight after delight. The high-point for me
is the magnificent 1867 arrangement of Isolde's Liebestod
from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde - a work of the
utmost artistic merit. I love the way Ciccolini initially focuses
on the beauty of the music and confidently develops the score
with a fiery ardour.
recordings of Liszt’s piano works it is hard to look further
than the ‘Complete Piano Music of Liszt’ that Leslie Howard
recorded for Hyperion between 1985 and 1998. Howard's monumental
achievement is spread across fifty-seven volumes comprising
ninety-five discs, with a supplementary volume of ‘New Liszt
Discoveries’ recorded in 2001. Other renowned Liszt interpreters
with collections deserving of attention are Georges Cziffra
on a five disc mono/stereo set, recorded in the 1950s and 1980s
on EMI Classics 5 74512-2 and Jorge Bolet with a superb set
on Double Decca 444 851-2.
complete sets of the Années de Pèlerinage one might wish
to explore the well regarded recordings by Lazar Berman from
1977 on Deutsche Grammophon 471 447-2 and from
Jenő Jandó on Naxos 8.550548/49/50.
remastered EMI sound is first class being especially vivid and
well balanced. Considering the large number of works here the
booklet notes by comparison seem rather concise. I thoroughly
enjoyed these performances that aptly demonstrate the art of
Aldo Ciccolini. This five disc set should satisfy anyone looking
for a broad selection of Liszt piano scores.