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Seen & Heard
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| Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
An Evening with Franz Liszt
Miserere du Trovatore, S.433 (1860) [8:06]
Réminiscences de Boccanegra, S.438 (1882) [10:47]
Ave Maria, Die Glocken von Rom (The Bells
of Rome), S.182 (1862) [5:31]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor, S.244/12
Sonata for Piano in B minor, S.178 (1852-54) [31:12]
rec. 5-8 July 2008, Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564
“Whoever really wants to know what Liszt has done for the piano
should study his old operatic fantasies
. They represent
the classicism of piano technique
Where Franz Liszt’s piano music is concerned it is always good to
have an exciting new kid on the block and Gábor Farkas fits
the bill with this new release. The
uninspiring title given to the recital is to me more evocative
of an evening of easy listening music from Katherine Jenkins or Mantovani. Born at Ózd, Hungary in 1981 the up and coming Farkas is a Ph.D. student
at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest; an institution
with a tradition that can track a direct connection back
to the great Liszt himself.
For the most part, with Liszt’s solo piano works it is the great Lisztians
that made their finest recordings between the 1950s and 1980s
that continue to take centre-stage. The most renowned Liszt
interpreter of all is probably the legendary Jorge Bolet.
Continuing acclaim is also given to: Georges Cziffra, Sviatoslav
Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, Lazar Berman, Claudio Arrau,
Aldo Ciccolini and Alfred Brendel. Although it can be difficult
to move ones focus away from the established masters there
have been many other outstanding Lisztians, recording mainly
over the last few decades, who have deserved attention such
as: Cyprien Katsaris, Murray Perahia, Maurizio Pollini,
Mikhail Pletnev, Boris Berezovsky, Jenő Jandó and Stephen
Hough. Their names are not widely known but some Liszt performers
remind me of brilliant uncut diamonds: Můza Rubackyte, Jean-Efflam
Bavouzet and Klára Würtz. To this honour-roll I would also
add Leslie Howard the performer of the first complete series
of Liszt piano music for Hyperion.
There is also a new generation of performers on the scene who have
been making considerable strides forward with exciting and
fresh Liszt interpretations. I urge Liszt lovers to explore
recent recordings from young and talented performers such
as Yundi Li, Alain Lefčvre, Giuseppe Andaloro, Joel Hastings,
Markus Groh, Alexandre Dossin, Polina Leschenko, Eldar Nebolsin and Lise de la Salle. These are distinctive
interpreters with something to profound say.
Before performances could be heard on record or on radio broadcasts
the majority of music lovers only had access to orchestral
and operatic scores in pared down arrangements for the piano
for performance in the drawing room or salon. Liszt was the
undisputed master of the ‘art of the transcription’, making numerous arrangements of songs, operas, symphonies; championing
the music of mainly contemporary composers that he felt deserved
attention. Transcription was the designation that Liszt used
to differentiate his work in this sphere from the ranks of
the paraphrase, fantasy, reminiscence, illustration or arrangement.
A transcription was the most obedient, strict, accurate and
literal account of the original. It was a procedure he usually
applied to transcriptions of songs such as those of Schubert.
By contrast a Liszt paraphrase, reminiscence or fantasy denotes
a freer interpretation of an original operatic theme, section
Verdi himself acknowledged the worth of Liszt’s operatic transcriptions as a way of popularising
the melodies from his operas and to help advance his reputation.
This practice in effect formed part of a ninetieth-century
Verdian marketing campaign. Liszt knew many of the operas
of Verdi intimately, having conducted several of them in
his role as Kapellmeister in Weimar. It seems that opera
paraphrases and transcriptions from composers such as Verdi
and Donizetti often formed a significant part of a Liszt
With his Verdi transcriptions Liszt generally stayed as faithful as
possible to the original music. Liszt in 1860 composed a
concert paraphrase on the Miserere scene from Verdi’s
opera Il Trovatore, S.433. There were two Verdi
transcriptions where Liszt used a freer interpretive style
with the operatic material. The first was the Concert
Paraphrase on Ernani, S.431a transcribed in 1847. The
second, Liszt’s last transcription, was a fantasy titled Reminiscences
de Boccanegra, S.438 from the 1881 revision of Simon
Boccanegra for La Scala, Milan - transcribed by Liszt
a year later. In the Miserere du Trovatore Farkas
exudes supreme confidence, generating an abundance of excitement
with a wide dynamic range. In his interpretation of Réminiscences
de Boccanegra he builds up a spirited energy bringing
the proceedings to an exhilaration conclusion.
My recommended disc of Verdi Concert Paraphrases and Transcriptions has
to be from Alexandre Dossin, recorded in 2005 at Ontario.
Dossin blends a compelling sense of Verdian drama combined
with a broad range of melodic richness. This is volume 25
in the Liszt series of Complete Piano Music on Naxos 8.557904
Greatly motivated by Catholic Latin texts Liszt created a large number
of religious works for chorus, piano and also for organ.
The Blessed Virgin Mary especially inspired him and he made
numerous choral and piano settings of the Ave Maria.
I especially admire Liszt’s setting of the Ave Maria I, S.20/1
on HungarotonA. Liszt’s third setting
for piano of the Ave Maria, S.182 is subtitled Die
Glocken von Rom (The Bells of Rome) owing to the
evocation of tolling bells at the end of the work. Dr. András
Batta in the booklet essay describes the E major score
as a, “masterpiece”. It was composed in 1862 whilst
Liszt was in Rome and intended as part of a published series
of piano theory tutorials by Dr. Siegmund Lebert and Dr.
Ludwig Stark. In the attractive opening section of the Ave
Maria (The Bells of Rome) Farkas conveys an atmosphere
of rapt delight. From 2:21 Farkas’s interpretation shifts
to one of a more introspective reverential character. The
music develops in intensity and quickens in tempo to a stimulating
peak around 4:22-4:37 before dying way to uncertain stillness.
At 5:05 the tolling bells are just perceptible for 20 or
so seconds as Farkas brings the score to its conclusion.
It has been said that the set of nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies
for piano is Liszt’s musical journal of his Hungarian
experiences. The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp
minor, S.244/12, composed 1846-53, and published in
1853 is an intricate score that bears a dedicated to Joseph
Joachim. There is also a well known orchestration of the Rhapsody
No. 12 by Franz Doppler. In this popular Rhapsody Farkas
handles the numerous variations of rhythm, tempo, dynamic
and mood with practised assurance.
The Sonata is acknowledged by renowned Liszt biographer Alan WalkerB as a, “masterpiece” and “arguably
one of the greatest keyboard works to come out of the nineteenth
century.” A landmark work, it was composed in
1852-54; a period of extreme difficulty for the composer.
The score was published in 1854 and bears a dedication
to Schumann. F. Bonavia wrote that, “… it is impossible
to deny that real gold is mixed with baser metals or that
it is originally conceived and brilliantly written.” The
B minor Sonata has an unconventional structure of
four contrasting movements. These are played continuously
maintain the sonata form of: Introduction; Exposition;
Development; Recapitulation and Coda.
Biographer and composer, Humphrey SearleC explained that, “the whole of the work
is constructed from three fairly short themes which appear
in an endless variety of forms.”
Farkas earns his colours in the mighty Sonata with a performance of considerable stature. I was struck
by how, right from the first theme, he develops the material
with forceful and dramatic power. There are also episodes
of remarkable fluency that contain an almost reverential
quality such as at 4:06-5:15 and the quest for peace and
tranquillity heard at 5:41-7:21. Impressive are
the hammer blows of hell and damnation at 10:35-10:48.
By contrast the rapt serenity conveyed from 12:05 has a
sense of other worldliness. Especially striking is the
development of dramatic and natural power (14:36-16:07)
and the meditative section (16:19-19:24) is affectionately
expressive. With assurance and proficiency the playing
from 19:31 heralds a dark and disturbing mood that prepares
the ground for the wild and stormy music to follow. At
24:35-25:49 the splendid Andante has a marked Beethovenian
character. The conclusion communicates heavenly stillness.
Of the numerous versions of the Sonata I
can recommend several recordings that have provided tremendous
pleasure. I remain a firm advocate
of Jorge Bolet’s authoritative and dramatic, digital 1982
Kingsway Hall interpretation. I have this performance on
Decca 410 115-2; a splendidly programmed Double Decca 444
851-2. It also features in the 9 disc Liszt-Bolet set on
Decca 467 801-2. I feel a great affection for the magnificent
1989 Herkulessaal, Munich account from Maurizio Pollini.
He plays with such warmth and affection, and a deep concentration
complemented by impressive digital sound on Deutsche Grammophon
Another outstanding version is the bold and
exhilarating 1997 Beethovensaal, Hanover recording from Mikhail
Pletnev on Deutsche Grammophon 457
629-2. Another digital version that
deserves consideration is the confident and well thought
out 1981 London performance from Alfred Brendel on Philips
432 048-2. I love the profound artistry of the 1970 analogue account
by Claudio Arrau from the Johannesstift in Berlin. It is one of their ‘50
Great Recordings’ series that has been digitally remastered
with an excellent sound from Philips Classics 464 713-2.
There is a large body of support for the exhilarating and steadfast
1971 Munich analogue recording from Martha Argerich. I have
this as part of a generous two disc Liszt compilation on
Deutsche Grammophon ‘Panorama’ 469 151-2 and also on Deutsche
Grammophon 437 252-2.
Sviatoslav Richter’s analogue account on Philips Classics Solo 446
200-2 is also one that I admire. Richter provides plenty
of weight and passion but rather lacks the poetry of some
rival versions. The 1966 live Livorno recording contains
general audience noise that might cause annoyance to some.
Of the newer releases of the B Minor
Sonata the 2007 account from Polina Leschenko
will undoubtedly win many admirers on Avanti Classic
SACD 5414706 10272. Recorded in super-audio at Sint-Truiden
in Belgium, Leschenko’s version is rich in drama with
playing that is frequently bold and often thrilling.
I enjoyed the interesting and reasonably informative booklet essay
by Dr. András Batta, Rector of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of
The sound quality from the Phoenix Studio in Budapest is cool, clear
and well balanced.
A Sacred Choral Music - In domun Domimi ibimus, S.57; In domum Domini ibimus, S.57; Chor der Engel,
S. 85 (Goethe: Faust, Part II); Domine salvum fac
regem, S.23; Te Deum laudamus I, S.27; Ave
maris stella, S. 34/1; Rosario, S. 56; Ave
Maria I, S.20/1; Inno a Maria Vergine,
State Chorus conducted by Gábor Ugrin DDD recorded in Budapest,
Hungary, released 1990 on Hungaroton HCD 31003.
Liszt (Volume 2), ‘The Weimar Years 1848-1861’ by
Alan Walker Publisher: Cornell University Press (1987) ISBN
Music of Liszt by
Humphrey Searle Dover Publications, second revised edition
(1966) ISBN not stated.
List of Compositions by Franz Liszt
As part of the International Music Score Library Project,
Wikipedia (the free on-line encyclopedia) hold a detailed
and helpful guide titled ‘List of Compositions by Franz
Liszt’ that is based Humphrey Searle’s 1966 Catalogue
of Works and evidently contains additions made by Sharon
Winklhofer and Leslie Howard. Designed in two sections the
list of Searle numbers (S) run from S.1-S.350 and S.351-S.999.
This list proves to be valuable tool for Lisztians.
An archive of some
260 of Liszt’s often fascinating letters is available in
English translations online.
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