“Since my return from Vienna I have worked pretty
continuously on my Symphonic Poems which first and for a couple
of years have been my life’s work.” Liszt (1856).
This continuing Naxos series of the Complete Piano Music, now standing at volume
29, has maintained an enviable level of consistency. Earlier
this year I enjoyed volume
28 - Liszt’s transcription for two pianos of Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 9. Previously I had selected
two discs from this series as my ‘2007 Records of
the Year’: Volume
24 played by Giuseppe Andaloro on 8.557814 and volume
25 played by Alexandre Dossin on 8.557904.
volume 29 in the series comprises Liszt's two piano transcriptions
of four of his Symphonic Poems. The performers, the Kanazawa-Admony
Piano Duo, are a married couple who have won several prestigious
awards including first prize in the 2000 Tokyo Piano Duo Competition,
the 2001 Rome Prize, the 2002 IBLA Grand Prize and recently
the Menuhin Gold Prize in the 2005 Osaka international chamber
opening work is Liszt’s third and best known symphonic poem
Les Préludes, composed principally in 1854-56. It seems
that Liszt originally wrote an overture to accompany four choral
works. Later he composed another overture to Joseph Autran’s
Les Quatre Éléments that incorporated some of the earlier
music. Over a period of years he reworked this introduction
into the symphonic poem, Les Préludes. Liszt marked the
score with an extract from Alphonse de Lamartine’s collection
of poems Nouvelles Méditations Počtiques. Both the orchestral
score and this two piano version were published in 1856 at Leipzig.
The progressive nature of Liszt’s symphonic poems did not sit
comfortably with everyone and most notably the influential music
critic Eduard Hanslick condemned Les Préludes.
was impressed by the ability of Kanazawa and Admony to navigate
the shifting moods of Les Préludes; a dramatic
work so vibrant and declamatory. After the score’s early tenderness
the music builds up to a wonderful excitement to end on a triumphant
1854-56 the symphonic poem Orpheus was originally written
to serve as a prelude and epilogue to a production of Gluck’s
opera Orpheus ed Eurydice that he was conducting in Weimar.
Both the orchestral score and this two piano version were published
in 1856. Lasting just under ten minutes Orpheus is the
shortest score on the disc.
comparison to Les Préludes the relatively restrained
music of Orpheus presents a very different challenge
to performers. Throughout this stream of music the duo’s concentration
is outstanding. I just loved the Chopinesque elegance and tenderness
of the opening section which displays the introspective side
to Liszt’s character.
wrote the symphonic poem Mazeppa in 1855. It is an enlarged
version of his splendid Transcendental Etude No. 4.
The inspiration for the score is the gruesome, dramatic poem
by Lord Byron and Victor Hugo where for punishment Mazeppa
is strapped to a galloping horse that drags him across the Ukrainian
plains. The orchestral version and this arrangement were published
in Leipzig in 1857.
Mazeppa the duo provide a fervent forward momentum. Their
often breathless tempi combine satisfactorily with Liszt’s
broad vacillation of mood. This is slow-burning music of turbulence
and anguish. I was highly impressed with the duo’s uninhibited
vivacity and the sparkling intensity of the performance.
twelfth symphonic poem Die Ideale was composed 1857-58.
It is based mainly on a poem by dramatist Friedrich Schiller.
Quotes from the poem are printed at various points during the
score. Again the orchestral score and this two piano version
were published in 1858. At twenty-four minutes in length it
is the longest work on the disc.
and Admony display considerable energy throughout the gruelling
physical demands of these arrangements none more so than in
the lengthy Die Ideale. Here wave after wave of emotion
develops into a tremendous climax to close the score.
is good to have these symphonic poems available as Liszt intended
in arrangements for the recital room as well as for the concert
hall. However, without the broad palette of colour provided
by the orchestra it is not surprising that these two piano arrangements
can seem rather overlong. At certain times I was even reminded
of pianists accompanying a 1920s silent film. This notwithstanding,
there is much wonderful music to be enjoyed here. The impeccably
prepared partnership perform these challenging scores marvellously
and are well recorded too.
see also Review
by Rob Maynard
For those wanting a complete set of the orchestral versions of
Liszt’s complete symphonic poems I can enthusiastically recommend
the following recording: ‘Complete Symphonic Poems’: Ce
qu'on entend sur la montagne (Berg-Symphonie), S.95;
Tasso, S.95; Les Préludes, S.96; Orpheus,
S.98; Prometheus, S.99; Mazeppa, S.100; Festklänge,
S.101; Héroidefunebre, S.102; Hungaria, S.103; Hamlet,
S.104; Die Hunnenschlacht, S.105; Die Ideale, S.106;
Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (From the cradle to the
grave), S.107; Zwei Episoden aus Lenau's Faust, S.110;
Mephisto Waltz II, S.111 & Szózat und Hymnus,
S.353. Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Árpád Joó. DDD,
recorded in Budapest, Hungary in 1984/5. These identical performances
were recently available on two alternative 5 disc sets. It is
well worth checking the current prices: 1) Brilliant Classics
99938 (super-bargain price); 2) Hungaroton
HCD12677-81 (full price).