Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Soirées Italiennes S411/R220 [29:17]; Etudes d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini Nos. 1, 4 and 6 S140/R3a [13:27]; Impromptu brillant sur des thèmes de Rossini et Spontini S150/R29 [11:25]; Sept variations sur un thème de Rossini S149/R28 [9:27]
Gianluca Luisi (piano)
rec. Bösendorfer Hall, Vienna, 9-11 June 2008
NAXOS 8.570984 [64:06]

How Liszt found time not just to compose and play his own music but to explore, arrange and, again, play the music of so many other composers is a mystery.

The present disc contains some his best known arrangements - half of the Studies after Paganini, as well as some of his least known - the set of Soirées Italiennes based on songs by the Italian composer Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870), his somewhat older contemporary. Why they are so little known would be a mystery were Liszt’s output less voluminous. Admittedly the original material is perhaps not as interesting as were Rossini’s songs that formed the basis for Liszt’s slightly earlier Soirées Musicales, but they do have some individuality which Liszt’s wonderful elaborations bring out to the full. There are six pieces in all in the set, including a Canzonetta, a Galop, a Serenade and a Bolero. Taken as a whole they are engaging and well worth getting to know. I have not heard the version by Leslie Howard in his Hyperion series but these versions by the Italian pianist Gianluca Luisi meet admirably all Liszt’s varied technical and musical demands.

Two of the other works on the disc are also rarely heard and draw on the works of Italian opera composers. The Impromtu is based on themes from two each of the operas of Rossini and Spontini. It was one of Liszt’s very early works and, while providing plenty of showy effects for the pianist is of only limited musical interest. The Variations, on a theme from Rossini’s Ermione, are of similar date and make even greater demands on the pianist’s virtuosity, admirably met in this performance.

The most familiar work here is, alas, only included in part. Liszt transcribed six of Paganini’s studies for solo violin but we are given only three here. These are sufficient to whet the appetite for Luisi’s performance of the whole set and it is disappointing that they could not all be included here. As this is part of the series of discs Naxos are producing of Liszt’s complete piano music I am unclear whether the remainder of the set will follow on another disc - a clumsy arrangement, or whether the three pieces that are included here will be duplicated elsewhere. It would be a pity however if this were to put anyone off buying the present disc, which contains performances and music to raise your spirits even in the present cold winter.

John Sheppard