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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Donizetti - Operatic Reminiscences and Transcriptions
Valse de concert sur deux motifs de Lucia et Parisina, S214/3/R155 (1852) [9:48]
Réminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia (2nd version), S400/R154 (1849) [23:39]
I. Trio from Act II [10:02]
II. Chanson à Boire (Orgie) – Duo – Finale [13:37]
Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor, S397/R151 (1841/1844) [15:37]
I. Andante final, S397/R151 [5:04]
II. Marche funèbre et Cavatine, S398/R152 [10:33]
Spirto gentil de l’opéra La Favorite, S400a (c. 1840) [7:12]
Marche funèbre de Dom Sebastien, S402/R156 (1844) [9:41]
William Wolfram (piano)
rec. 13-15 January 2006, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto, Canada
NAXOS 8.570137  [65:57]


Experience Classicsonline

Liszt’s piano music is surely his greatest achievement, so it’s gratifying that Naxos have pressed ahead with their survey, now at Volume 27. It’s not the only such collection – Leslie Howard blazed the trail with his 94-disc set for Hyperion – nor is it all essayed by a single pianist. That said, the Naxos discs are at budget price, which will always tempt collectors looking for quality music-making at a modest price.

There’s nothing modest about the pianistic talents of William Wolfram, whose earlier contribution to this series – Volume 20 – garnered much praise from my colleagues Colin Clarke and Michael Cookson (review). Here he tackles the Donizetti arrangements, just one spur of Liszt’s opera-inspired output that included Auber, Bellini, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner.

Wolfram certainly has a commanding keyboard presence. In Lucia et Parisina one marvels at the ease with which he dashes off this extravagant music, while in the earlier Réminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia he builds the tension at the beginning of the Act II trio very well indeed. But he also manages to sound poetic in the quieter, more lyrical moments – even if there aren’t many of those in this collection.

The piano sound is impressive, wide-ranging and clear without being over-bright in the runs and roulades of Chanson a Boire or unfocused in the magisterial chords that bring the Borgia trio to a close. The aural perspective is a touch shallow but then a more immediate sound probably suits this repertoire.

Which is a good time to issue a health warning. Extraordinary as Wolfram’s playing undoubtedly is, the high decibel count is apt to become tiring after a while. Indeed, the sustained avalanche of sound in the closing moments of the Borgia piece might have you reaching for the pause button or switching off altogether.

But not for long. The Andante final – taken from the Act II sextet of Lucia – has the usual brilliance plus eloquence and lyricism. This is simply spellbinding music and Wolfram certainly has the magician’s touch when it comes to conjuring up a theatrical atmosphere. That is especially true of the funeral march, which captures all the gloom and despair of Lucy’s death with its lowering chords and implacable rhythms. Wolfram’s wizardry extends to clarity and articulation, notably in Liszt’s juxtaposition of ‘Esci, fuggi’ from Act II and Edgar’s Act III heart-wrencher 'Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali'. In a concert hall an electric performance like this would surely have the audience leaping to their feet as one.

Liszt’s version of Ferdinand’s cavatina ‘Spirto gentil’ from La favorite, itself based on Wagner’s piano transcription of the opera, is full of Italianate drama and pathos. As always Wolfram has an unerring feel for the dramatic peaks and valleys of this music; more than that he spins some long, singing lines as well. There is a real emotional tug to this performance that is every bit as gripping as one  in the theatre.

Wolfram invests the funeral march from Donizetti’s last opera, Dom Sebastien, with a craggy grandeur – cue massive, rough-hewn chords that call for more power than subtlety. But then there’s nothing reticent about this music, and the recorded balance reinforces that point. Perhaps Naxos could have planned this survey rather differently – as Hyperion have done – and programmed a mix of composers on this disc, rather than concentrate on one.

That minor caveat aside I can only endorse the positive comments about Wolfram’s playing – it really is that good. Collectors who already have the Howard performances may feel those are unassailable, but if it’s value and good music-making you’re after this Naxos release is self recommending.

Dan Morgan



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