have seriously taken up a position as a religious and Catholic
composer. Now, this is a limitless field for art, which
I feel is my vocation to cultivate vigorously.” (Liszt,
in a letter to Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein in 1856)
best known as a virtuoso pianist Liszt was also a major influence
as a progressive composer who according to biographer Cecil
Gray created “some of the greatest and most original masterpieces
of the nineteenth century”. A prolific and versatile composer
he produced over seven hundred scores covering most genres of
which over half were piano compositions.
My experiences at recorded music societies have confirmed that although
Liszt’s name is extremely well known a large proportion of his
compositions remain unknown. With the exception of a small number
of frequently recorded warhorses and the temporary resurgence
in interest for the centenary of his death, Liszt is a composer
who is currently unfashionable. The same could be said about
Charles Gounod and César Franck whose music seems to be suffering
the same ignominious fate.
the relative neglect of Liszt’s music in recent times it is
hard to imagine just how esteemed he was in his day. As a strong
advocate of Liszt I believe that one of his most enduring genres,
and frequently his most neglected, is his often revelatory sacred
music. Religion played a major part in Liszt’s life. He regarded
himself as “a loyal son of the Catholic church”
joining the Franciscan order and receiving minor orders in 1865
becoming Abbé Liszt. Liszt subsequently undertook considerable
religious instruction and in 1879 was made an honorary canon
of St. Albano in Rome. A substantial amount of the sacred music
has been released on disc over the last twenty years or so but
assembling a collection is not always easy. From my own collection
I have listed at the end of this review a number of high quality
Liszt sacred works and other interesting discoveries that can
be obtained without undue effort.
feature work on this Naďve release is Liszt’s Via
Crucis (The way of the cross). Liszt began
outlining the score in 1876-77 at the Villa d'Este in Rome and
evidently completed it in Budapest the next year. Budapest was
also the location of its premiere presentation some fifty years
later on Good Friday 1929.
for solo voices, chorus and organ the Via Crucis is a
remarkable devotional Roman Catholic work describing Christ’s
final hours, centred around his journey of carrying the Cross.
The design follows the division into fourteen ‘Stations of
the Cross’ that represent the Passion of Christ.
Catholic churches generally have pictures or tableaux of these
scenes along the nave walls, usually seven on each side. The
group move around the church stopping at each station for mediations
of prayers and singing. The devotion is most commonly
undertaken during Lent; especially on Good Friday. For the Via
Crucis Liszt employed texts from the Bible, hymns
and chorales. These were compiled by his mistress and benefactor,
the Polish Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein.
truth, the Via Crucis is not a work for everyday
listening, with its spare employment of resources and its intended
use for the season of Lent and Good Friday. It is really a sacred
work for the specialist listener. Having recently listened to
six versions of the score, three with organ and three with piano,
I strongly feel that the organ, for its commanding sound and
strong ecclesiastical qualities, is considerably more in keeping
with church traditions than the piano.
this recording Naďve have employed the undoubted talents of
the French vocal ensemble Accentus under the direction of their
founder Laurence Equilbey. In a firmly controlled performance,
my highlights are the expressive singing of soloists: Cyrille
Gautreau the rich bass as Pilate and Pierre Corbel as Jesus
who displays a dark and smoothly appealing timbre. In the final
station XIV ‘Jesus is laid in the tomb’ the mezzo-soprano
of Violaine Lucas blends beautifully with the choir. Although
not my instrument of preference in this score the piano of Brigitte
Engerer is handled with considerable sensitivity displaying
an agreeable timbre. The recording engineers have provided a
decent sound quality with a closely caught choir and the piano
is also forwardly placed.
is with great confidence that I can recommend the Hungaroton
version of the Via Crucis performed by the Budapest Chorus
and soloists directed by Miklós Szabó, with Gábor Lehotka on
organ. The fine cast of soloists includes the eminent soprano
Éva Marton. In the absence of recording details the label has
kindly informed me that this recording was made at the
Matthias Church, Budapest in 1971 and has evidently been digitally
remastered on Hungaroton ‘White Label’ HRC 145 (c/w Szekszárd
Mass, S8/2). This is an extremely devout interpretation,
at times powerful and at other times appropriately restrained,
conveying great humility from these immaculate performers. The
excellent sound quality enhances the desirability of this superb
have another acclaimed version of Via Crucis from
the Ensemble Vocal Musicatreize directed by Roland Hayrabedian
with Roland Conil on piano. Those who prefer the use of the
piano over the organ will surely appreciate this version on
Calliope CAL 9225 (c/w Ave verum, S44; Salve Regina,
S66; O salutaris, S 43). With appropriate reverence Hayrabedian
directs a performance of considerable dramatic energy in the
clear yet closely recorded ecclesiastical acoustic of the chapelle
St. Martin du Méjean, France in 1993.
other recordings of the Via Crucis that I have heard
but are not part of my collection:
The Chśur Sacrum directed by Andris Veismanis with organist
Vincent Genvrin recorded at Riga Cathedral, Latvia in 1994 on
Éditions Hortus 002 (c/w Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,
S179; Les Morts, S268/2). Musicweb-international reviewer
Paul Shoemaker wrote, “This is the best performance and recording
of it I’ve ever heard.” Review
b) The Corydon Singers directed by Matthew Best with Thomas
trotter as organist recorded at St Alban's Church, Holborn,
London in 2000 on Hyperion CDA67199 (c/w Missa Choralis,
c) The account from the Radio Svizzera Choir, Lugano directed
by Diego Fasolis on Naxos 8.553786 (c/w Ave Maria, S20/1;
Die Seligpreisungen (The Beatitudes), S25; Pater
noster, S41/1; Vater unser, S29).
Naďve release includes three works from Liszt’s collection of
ten piano pieces Harmonies poétiques et religieuses:
Ave Maria; Pensée des morts and Pater noster.
The first significant piano works Liszt composed in his
highly productive Weimar years was the collection of ten religiously
inspired scores with the collective title Harmonies poétiques
et religieuses, the majority of which were composed between
1847-52. The selection of the three pieces seems a strange one
as they are, I believe, some of the least inspiring works in
the collection. I would have preferred to have heard Brigitte
Engerer’s interpretation of the two masterpieces: Bénédiction
de Dieu dans la solitude (1845) and the Funčrailles
(1849), and maybe also the expressive Cantique d’amour
spite of my reservations over the choice of pieces from the
set of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses pianist Brigitte
Engerer, a student of the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow,
gives a magnificent performance. Engerer displays a genuine
feeling for the repertoire with refined awareness of the liturgical
character of the works and is particularly well served by the
recording engineers. I trust that I have the good fortune to
encounter Brigitte Engerer in a future recital of Liszt piano
well performed release from Naďve of the Via Crucis using
the piano, but the competition is fierce. I especially enjoyed
the outstanding playing of pianist Brigitte Engerer in the three
pieces of the Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses.
For those wishing
to explore outside the more usual genre of the Liszt piano works
and symphonic poems I have listed below a number of works from
my collection that have provided me with considerable enjoyment.
These are all fascinating Liszt recordings that can be
obtained with reasonable effort. I have indicated those that
I recommend especially highly.
Solennis (Gran Festival
Mass) (A highly recommend work and recording)
SATB soloists, chorus and orchestra, S9 (1855; rev. 1857-58)
Klára Takács (alto);
Veronika Kincses (soprano); György Korondi (tenor); József Gregor
(bass); Budapest Symphony Orchestra; Hungarian
Radio and Television Chorus conducted by János Ferencsik.
recorded circa 1977 on Hungaroton HCD 11861-2.
Coronation Mass) (A highly recommended work and recording)
SATB soloists, chorus and orchestra, S11 (1865; Gradual
Veronika Kincses (soprano); Klára Takács (alto); Dénes
Gulyás (tenor); László Polgár (bass), Péter Hidy (violin); Budapest
Symphony Orchestra; Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus conducted
by György Lehel.
ADD, recorded circa 1994(?) on Hungaroton
Classic HCD 12148.
(A highly recommended work and recording)
TTBB soloists, male chorus, organ & orchestra, S12 (1867-68;
Libera me 1871)
Alfonz Bartha (tenor); Sándor
Palcsó (tenor); Zsolt Bende (baritone); Peter Kovács (bass);
Hungarian Army Male Chorus; Sándor Margittay (organ) conducted by János Ferencsik.
ADD, recorded circa 1966 on Hungaroton Classic HCD 11267.
(A highly recommended work and recording)
Oratorio: for SATB
soloists, choir and orchestra, S3 (1855-67)
Henriette Bonde-Hansen (soprano); Iris Vermillion (mezzo); Michael
Schade (tenor); Andreas Schmidt (bass); Gächinger Kantorei,
Stuttgart; Krakauer Kammerchor; Stuttgart RSO conducted by Helmuth
DDD, recorded at Beethovensaal Liederhalle, Stuttgart, Germany
in 1997 on Brilliant Classics 99951 (also available on Hänssler
Classics 98121). Review
(Legend of the Saint Elizabeth) (A
highly recommended work and recording)
Oratorio: for soloists,
chorus and orchestra, S2 (1857-62)
Eva Farkas (mezzo); Sándor Sólyom-Nagy (baritone); József Gregor
(bass); István Gáti (baritone); Kolos Kováts (bass); Eva Martón
(soprano); Hungarian Army Male Chorus; Budapest
Chorus; Nyíregyháza Children's Chorus;
Hungarian State Orchestra conducted by Árpád Joó. DDD,
recorded 1984 on Hungaroton Classic HCD 12694-96.
(The way of the cross)
for solo voices,
chorus and organ, S53 (1876-78)
Budapest Chorus and Soloists, conducted by Miklós Szabó with
Gábor Lehotka (organ). The cast includes the eminent soprano
ADD remastered, recorded in September 1971 at the Matthias
Church in Budapest, Hungary on Hungaroton ‘White Label’ HRC
145 (c/w Szekszárd Mass, S8/2).
(Messe de Jubilé)
for mixed choir,
vocal solos and organ, S10 (1865)
The Corydon Singers directed by Matthew Best with Thomas trotter,
DDD, recorded at St Alban's Church, Holborn, London in 2000
on Hyperion CDA67199 (c/w Via Crucis, S53).
for four-part male
chorus, solo quartet and organ, S8/2 (1848 version S8/1; second
version S8/2 1869)
Male Chorus of the Hungarian People’s Army and soloists conducted
by István Kis;
with Gábor Lehotka (organ).
ADD remastered, recorded circa 1989 on Hungaroton ‘White Label’
HRC 145 (c/w Via Crucis, S53).
unfinished, S688 (presented in two completed scenes)
(1873-85; Salve Polonia, S113 1863; De Profundis,
Symphony Orchestra, May Festival Chorus and soloists conducted
by James Conlon.
recorded at Cincinnati, Ohio, USA in 2003 on Telarc CD-80607.
Faust Symphony (A highly recommend
work and recordings)
character pictures after Goethe, S108 (1854; final chorus added
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, conductor
Leonard Bernstein, with Kenneth Riegel (tenor)
ADD remastered, recording at Symphony
Hall, Boston, USA in 1976 on Deutsche Grammophon ‘Galleria’ 431 470-2.
b) Rotterdam Philharmonic
Orchestra, Men's Chorus of the Slovak Philharmonic, Bratislava
conducted by James Conlon, with John Aler (tenor).
DDD, recorded at Doelen, Rotterdam, Holland in 1983 on Erato
ECD 88068 (re-issued on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 2564-61460-2)
(A highly recommend work and recording)
A Symphony to Dante’s
’Divine Comedy’, S109 (1855-56)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Choeur de Concert de Helmond
conducted by James Conlon.
DDD, recorded circa 1986 on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 0927-49816-2.
Sanche or (The Castle
of Love) (A highly recommend work and recording)
Opera in one act, sung in French, S1 (1824-25)
Julia Hamari (mezzo); István Gáti (baritone); Gérard
Garino (tenor); Katalin Farkas (soprano); Iidiko Komlósi (mezzo);
Hungarian State Opera Orchestra & Hungarian
Radio and Television Chorus, conducted by Tamás Pál.
DDD, recorded circa 1986 on Hungaroton HCD
Lieder (Highly recommend works and recording)
Die Loreley; Du bist wie eine Blume;
S'il est un charmant gazon; Im Rhein im schönen Strome;
Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh; Der du von dem Himmel bist;
Es war ein König in Thule; Freudvoll und leidvoll;
Die Drei Zigeuner; Das Veilchen; Die Vätergruft;
Dame Janet Baker (mezzo); Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
recorded at Abbey Road studios, London 1979-80 from EMI Classics
5 73836-2 (c/w Lieder Schumann & Mendelssohn).
Complete Music for Cello and Piano:
La Lugubre Gondola, S200 (1882); Die Zelle
in Nonnenwerth, S382 (song, S274 1841, arr. 1880);
Romance Oubliee, S132 (1880); Elegie
No. 1, S130 (1874); Elegie No. 2, S131
Norman Fischer (cello) & Jeanne Kierman (piano)
DDD, recorded at Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA in 2002
on Bridge Records 9187 (c/w Chopin Cello Sonata, Op.
65; Polanaise brillante, Op. 3 & Grand Duo Concertant).
(Highly recommend works and recording)
Prelude and Fugue on the name of B.A.C.H.,
S180; Variations on ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’ (Weeping,
Lamenting, Sorrows, Fear), S180; Fantasia and
Fugue on the chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’
(To us, to the water of salvation), S259 Hans-Jürgen
DDD, recorded in 1997 on the Frederich Ladegast organ, Dom in
Schwerin, Germany on Brilliant Classics SACD 92208.