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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Symphonic Poems: Hungaria, S103 (1856) [21:52]; Héroïde funèbre, S102 (1849) [23:19]; Le Triomphe funèbre de Tasso (1866) [13:05]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Michael Halász
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 30 May-1 June 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557847 [58:16]
Experience Classicsonline

, S109, begins darkly, ominously. Here is the spirit of pure Romanticism. The piece was begun in 1848 - the year of the Hungarian uprising against the Hapsburgs. A march with origins in  an earlier piece, Heroic March in Hungarian Style, leads to an episodic section which includes some work for solo violin. 'Episodic' seems to sum up this work perfectly, in fact, but it works here chiefly because of the élan of the New Zealanders involved. The recording is very good without being demonstration quality. Nevertheless there is real detail there, and the thumping timpani-emphasised arrival at 12:35 makes its mark in no uncertain fashion. The descent into the depths - which reaches its stillest point around 15:30 - is particularly atmospheric. Avoidance of bombast, which enables the closing bars to sound triumphant, is symptomatic of the entire disc.

The Héroïde funèbre, S102 is actually the first movement of a projected ‘Revolutionary Symphony’ that was never to see completion. The funereal Lento lugubre introduction unites Beethoven's famous 'Eroica' funeral march with the nightmarish side of Berlioz. Liszt’s works hints of The Marseillaise into his fabric. The discipline of the New Zealand orchestra enables the long stretch of this piece to work.

Finally, the slightly shorter Tasse which is not to be confused with Tasso, the first version of this piece, which dates from 1849. There is much beauty here, and the phrasing from the New Zealand strings in particular is remarkably tender. ‘A Gondolier's Song’ is given central importance as regards thematic material, but what really matters is the elegiac mood, captured to perfection here.

Naxos seem to have some affinity with Liszt, for recently I welcomed the orchestrations of the Hungarian Rhapsodies (8.570230). I still enjoy the Masur traversals of the Liszt symphonic poems (currently available as a 7-CD set), but Halász provides a viable alternative.

Colin Clarke

see also Review by Michael Cookson




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