This release of Liszt’s
first oratorio is a reissue on two discs
of the label’s 1973 Bratislava recording
conducted by Ferencsik. One initially
wonders why Hungaroton found it necessary
to reach down into their back catalogue
as they already have an excellently
performed and recorded three disc digital
recording of St. Elizabeth
from 1984 conducted by Árpád
Joó. Now after hearing this superb
performance I understand why the recording
was dusted off and reissued.
conductor the late János Ferencsik
was notable as a Liszt specialist. In
the early 1930s the young Ferencsik
was Toscanini’s assistant at Bayreuth
and became an experienced conductor
of choral music and opera. He held the
post of principal conductor of the Hungarian
National Philharmonic between 1952 and
1984. Of his Liszt recordings for Hungaroton
I especially admire his accounts of
the Missa Solennis, recorded
circa 1977 on HCD 11861-2 and the Requiem
recorded circa 1966 on HCD 11267.
In 1854 Liszt was inspired
to write St. Elizabeth by
a series of frescoes by the Austrian
painter Moritz von Schwind in the rooms
of Wartburg castle, near Weimar. The
Wartburg frescoes include the depiction
of episodes in the life of Saint Elizabeth.
I have compiled a brief synopsis of
Elizabeth born in 1207,
the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary
was brought to the Wartburg castle as
the intended bride for Ludwig, the son
of the Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia.
Elizabeth and Ludwig were married in
1221 and subsequently she relinquished
her wealth by dedicating her life to
acts of benevolence to the sick and
the poor. The popular ‘Miracle of the
Roses’ scene tells of Elizabeth, who
unknown to her husband was taking food
in secret for the poor. Elizabeth was
asked by Ludwig what was in her covered
basket. As Elisabeth opened the basket
the bread miraculously turned into roses.
After Ludwig died at the crusades in
1227 Elizabeth for a time suffered banishment
and experienced a period of hardship
and poverty. She dedicated the remainder
of her short life to God and died in
1231. She was canonized four years later
by Pope Gregory IX.
For his oratorio St.
Elizabeth Liszt commissioned texts
from the German poet/writer Otto Roquette.
The score was dedicated to the King
of Bavaria and was subsequently published
as a concert-oratorio. Following the
significant events in the life of Elizabeth
the oratorio is cast in six scenes and
divided into two parts. The booklet
provides the following programme:
1) The arrival of Elizabeth at the Wartburg.
a) The people and Landgrave Hermann
b) Address of the Hungarian magnate.
c) Landgrave Hermann’s reply.
d) First interview between Ludwig and
e) Children’s games and children’s chorus.
2) Landgrave Ludwig.
a) Hunting song.
b) Meeting of Ludwig and Elizabeth.
c) Miracle of the Roses.
d) Prayer of Thanksgiving: Duet between
Ludwig and Elizabeth, assisted by the
3) The Crusaders.
a) Chorus of Crusaders.
b) Recitative of Landgrave Ludwig.
c) Ludwig bids Elizabeth farewell.
d) Chorus and March of the Crusaders.
4) Countess Sophie.
a) Dialogue between Countess Sophie
and the Seneschal
b) Elizabeth’s Lament.
c) Elizabeth’s Banishment.
b) Dream and Thoughts of Home.
c) Chorus of the Poor - Deeds of Charity.
d) Elizabeth’s Death.
e) Angel’s Chorus.
6) Solemn burial of Elizabeth.
a) Orchestral Interlude - Repetition
of the principal motifs.
b) Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen.
c) Death-Chorus of the Poor and of the
d) Procession of Crusaders.
e) Church-Chorus. Hungarian and German
Liszt conducted the
première, evidently using a Hungarian
translation of the German libretto,
in Pest, Hungary in 1865 as part of
the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations
for the foundation of the Pest Music
Conservatory. Only eight days later
he gave another performance this time
at Weimar. Biographer Alan WalkerA
explains how Liszt, who had only recently
taken minor holy orders, gave the Pest
première wearing the cassock
of a Franciscan monk. There was another
notable performance of St.
Elizabeth given in the presence
of Liszt. This was conducted by Sir
Alexander Mackenzie and sung in English
at the St. James’s Hall, London in 1886.
According to Edward DannreutherB
early performances that Liszt produced
were in the form of an opera
sacra (sacred opera).
The extended orchestral
introduction St. Elizabeth
is conducted with lightness and sensitivity
yet develops a convincing weight. Árpád
Joó in his Hungaroton version
with the Hungarian State Orchestra provide
a seamless and dramatic development
throughout the orchestral introduction.
In the scene of the
‘Children’s Games and Children’s Chorus’
Ferencsik’s colourful woodwind accompany
the joyous and playful children’s choir
joined by the full-bodied mixed chorus.
The children’s chorus in the Joó
version is quaint and delightfully sung
with the mixed choir powerful and highly
The highlight is the
celebrated scene of the ‘Miracle of
the Roses’, a minor masterpiece of sacred
choral music. This is followed by the
impressive duet between Ludwig and Elizabeth
known as the scene of the ‘Prayer of
Thanksgiving’. Ferencsik’s soloists,
the baritone Sándor Sólyom-Nagy
as Ludwig and soprano Éva Andor
as Elizabeth provide hauntingly dramatic
singing with robust orchestral accompaniment
in this deeply expressive music. Joó
also employs Sólyom-Nagy in his
cast with the eminent operatic soprano
Éva Marton as Elizabeth. Both
singers are highly effective with singing
of strength and reverential sincerity
together with a chorus combining potency
with nobility. However, I give Éva
Andor’s outstanding and creamily eloquent
interpretation my preference over Marton
who despite a fine performance troubles
me with her all too discernible vibrato.
The ‘Chorus and March
of the Crusaders’ scene under Ferencsik
is martial in quality and builds a most
impressive power. Ferencsik’s chorus
from 6:04 (CD1, track 14) has an exultant
fervour. Joó’s interpretation
is more robustly military and the layers
of orchestral sound are a treat for
the ears. The singing of Joó’s
choir from 5:41 (CD2, track 4) has a
In the ‘Chorus of the
Poor’ Ferencsik’s forces are sublime
and emotional whilst Joó’s choir
is inspiring and humane in its spirit.
In the scene ‘Elizabeth’s Death’ Ferencsik
conveys dolorous and spiritual depth
and in Joó’s performance one
senses music-making of an encompassing
humanity. The ‘Angel’s Chorus’ from
Ferencsik is pious containing an other-worldly
radiance while Joó imparts an
Another highlight of
the score is the Orchestral Interlude,
a prelude to the final section, which
is a repetition of the principal motifs.
Ferencsik and his Slovak players provide
powerfully passionate playing and while
the orchestral playing of Joó’s
Hungarian State Orchestra is dignified
but without the Ferencsik’s power.
In recent years probably
the best known recording of St.
Elizabeth is that from Joó.
His full cast are Eva Farkas (mezzo);
Sándor Sólyom-Nagy (baritone);
József Gregor (bass); István
Gáti (baritone); Kolos Kováts
(bass); Éva Marton (soprano);
Hungarian Army Male Chorus; Budapest
Chorus; Nyíregyháza Children's
Chorus and the Hungarian State Orchestra.
His digital recording was made in Budapest
in 1984 with a vivid and well balanced
sound quality. It’s on a three disc
set: Hungaroton Classic HCD 12694-96.
I notice that the booklet notes from
Ferencsik’s reissued two disc analogue
set uses an abridged version of those
used in the three disc set from Joó.
Although all the necessary information
is present the annotation on both the
Hungaroton sets is not without mistakes
and is confusingly laid out making it
difficult to find ones way around the
score. I am pleased to report that full
texts and a comprehensive essay in English
translations are provided.
Another version of
St. Elizabeth that may
be encountered is that conducted by
Siegfried Heinrich with members of the
Frankfurt and Marburg Concert Chorus;
Hersfeld Festival Chorus and the Warsaw
Radio Symphony Orchestra with Maria
Szechowska (soprano); Doreen Millmann
(mezzo); István Bercewy (bass)
and Klaus Lapins (baritone). Heinrich’s
performance was recorded in 1983 and
released on Koch Schwann 3-1291-2.
This Hungaroton reissue
from Ferencsik is remarkable and fully
deserves its return to the catalogue.
Recorded in 1973 at Bratislava the AAD
sound quality is impressive for its
age and is clear and well balanced.
AFranz Liszt (Volume 2),
‘The Final Years 1861-1886’ by
Publisher: Cornell University Press
(1997) ISBN 0-8014-8453-7.
BOxford History of Music,
Vol. VI, ‘The Romantic Period’
by Edward Dannreuther
Publisher: Clarendon Press, Oxford (1905).
As part of the International Music Score
Library Project, Wikipedia (the free
on-line encyclopedia) hold a detailed
and helpful ‘List of Compositions
by Franz Liszt’ that evidently contains
additions to Searle’s 1966 list made
by Sharon Winklhofer and Leslie Howard.
In two sections the list of Searle numbers
(S) run from S.1-S.350 and S.351-S.999.
Although not definitive this
list proves to be valuable tool