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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music Vol. 24
Mephisto Waltz no.1 S514/R181 (1856-61) [12:05]
Mephisto Waltz no.2 S515/R182 (1878/9-1881) [11:12]
Mephisto Waltz no.3 S216/R38 (1883) [09:48]
Mephisto Waltz no.4 S696/R661 (1885) [02:59]
Elegy no.1 S196/R76 (1874) [05:45]
Elegy no.2 S197/R77 (1878) [05:13]
Grosses Konzertsolo S176/R18 [23:08]
Giuseppe Andaloro (piano)
rec. 8-9 March 2005, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, UK
NAXOS 8.557814 [70:10]

Volume 24 of the complete Naxos Liszt edition opens with the ubiquitous Mephisto Waltz No.1, followed by its lesser-known companions. No.4 is actually a brief fragment, complete only in the sense that it does not break off in mid-phrase. A contrasting Andantino section had been sketched for it. The two Elegies were written four years apart and are not intended as a pair. The Grosses Konzertsolo is a sort of single-movement sonata; it was later arranged for piano and orchestra and for two pianos as the Concerto Pathétique. It is probably best known in this latter guise.
Gratitude for an opportunity to hear the later Mephisto Waltzes must be tempered by the fact that they don’t stay in the mind as the first does. The second, in particular, could well be programmed by pianists as an alternative to the first, yet it is understandable that a pianist who has not actually been commissioned to perform or record it might baulk at learning so many notes when no.1 is more effective anyway. Liszt always holds the attention, yet when the storm and thunder is over, the pieces that remain in the mind tend to be those that are regularly played. I am very far from the persuasion that, if a piece is neglected, it probably deserves it. However, in the case of Liszt, pianists and the public do seem to have it about right. In the same way the two Elegies, agreeable as they are, lack the mesmerizing force of the best quiet pieces in the Années de Pèlerinage. The Grosses Konzertsolo, the “empty virtuosity” of which caused Clara Schumann to refuse to play it, ought to make a recital alternative to the Sonata. But it is not involving in the same way. Still, now that Andaloro has taken the trouble to learn all these notes, I hope he will keep the pieces in his recital repertoire. The music is never less than effective.
Do the performances do everything possible for it?
Yes and no. Andaloro, a pupil of Fiorentino and the winner of the 2005 Busoni Competition in Bolzano, has a commanding technique. His tone remains rich and rounded in the heaviest passages. Nor does he neglect the more poetic aspects of the music. My only very slight complaint is that he fractionally but regularly delays chords which are preceded by an upward leap. Whether this is a technical matter or whether he intends to “place” the chords expressively, I can’t say. I would just rather he didn’t do it. But I don’t want to make too much of this. It is fine playing, without doubt.
And yet I have to say that even that isn’t enough. If you go to the account of the First Mephisto Waltz on Minoru Nojima’s wonderful Liszt disc, you’ll find a sense of detachment, a feeling that the performer is fully engaged but still with time for an overview. He’s a conjuror who makes us gasp at every new trick. At 10:54 he is over a minute quicker than Andaloro even while taking a slower basic tempo. This is because he does not get becalmed in the gentler passages. In the last resort, Andaloro seems to alternate between impulsive passion and poetic lingering. A whole disc based on just two modes of playing gets to have its limitations.
But you won’t find performances of most of this music by the likes of Horowitz, Petri and so on. Time was when minor Liszt came, if at all, from pianists who could barely cope with it at half-speed. Andaloro is infinitely better than that. This is, I repeat, fine playing.
Fully informative notes by Keith Anderson and excellent recording.
Christopher Howell

see also review by Michael Cookson


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