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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music. Vol. 30
Soirées italiennes on themes of Mercadante, S411/R220 (1838) [29:17]
Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini, S140/R3a (1838) [13:27]
Impromptu brillant sur des thèmes de Rossini et Spontini, S150/R29 (1824) [11:25]
Sept variations sur un thème de Rossini, S149/R28 (c.1824) [9:37]
Gianluca Luisi (piano)
rec. Bösendorfer Hall, Vienna, Austria. 9-11 June 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.570984 [64:06]

Experience Classicsonline

The character of instrumental music... lets the emotions radiate and shine in their own character without presuming to display them as real or imaginary representations.” Liszt

Now standing at volume 30 this continuing Naxos series maintains an impressive level of consistency with this disc featuring arrangements of Italian opera composers. Across the series Naxos have utilised the talents of several soloists the majority of whom were new names to me. On this volume the soloist is also unfamiliar but the label’s scouts are clearly expert at talent spotting as Italian-born pianist Gianluca Luisi performs with assurance and considerable brio.

Earlier this year I was dazzled by the playing of the Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo in volume 29 in the series comprising two-piano transcriptions of four of Liszt’s symphonic poems on Naxos 8.570736. In 2008 I especially enjoyed volume 28 in the series which was Liszt’s two piano transcription 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.

Before it was possible to reproduce performances electronically the majority of music-lovers only had access to the popular orchestral and operatic scores of the day in pared-down arrangements for performance in the drawing room or salon. Liszt was the undisputed master of the ‘art of the transcription’, making numerous piano arrangements of the music of mainly popular contemporary composers. These he played in his own recitals.

Completed in 1838 the Soirées italiennes, S411 are free piano arrangements known as six amusements based on motifs from a collection of songs by Saverio Mercadante, an admired Neapolitan composer, principally of operas. It seems that Liszt dedicated the score to the Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria. The set of six Soirées italiennes are genuinely elegant, attractive and undemanding piano pieces that in the hands of Gianluca Luisi amuse and delight. They vary splendidly from the relaxed elegance of La primavera (track 1) to the action-packed entertainment of the dance-infused Galop (track 2) to the brash arrogance of the drinking song Il brindisi (track 5). It’s a shame that Mercadante the composer of the original themes is not acknowledged in the titles to this release.  

Liszt first heard Paganini perform in 1832 at a Paris recital. This event was to inspire the young Liszt to embark on a career as a touring virtuoso. It was in 1838 that Liszt prepared the Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini, S140 a set of six challenging studies based on themes from Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin and other works. In 1840 the set was published and later revised and republished in 1851. Of the three Études on this disc the best known by far is the sixth based on Paganini’s famous and oft-transcribed Caprice No. 24 in A minor. I like the way Luisi traverses the complex and virtuosic demands of the moody Étude No.1. A study in arpeggios the Étude No.4 is akin to a perpetuum mobile and the celebrated Étude No.6 is a delightful yet serious display piece with that killer melody.  
From 1824 the Impromptu brillant sur des thèmes de Rossini et Spontini, S150 is an early work from the year of Liszt’s Paris debut and bears a dedication to Countess Eugénie de Noirberne. The score includes themes from Rossini’s operas La donna del lago and Armida, and Gaspare Spontini’s opera Olimpie and Fernand Cortez. A marvellous piece, the Impromptu is high on melody and broad in entertainment value. Possibly the themes are a touch lacking in variety which is probably the reason the score is not played more often in piano recitals.

Liszt knew the Parisian-based Gioachino Rossini and prepared several fantasias on themes from his operas. Dating from around 1824 Liszt’s Sept variations sur un thème de Rossini, S149 uses themes from Rossini’s opera Ermione. Liszt’s score is dedicated to Madame Panckoucke who was well connected and from an eminent publishing family. Luisi is fresh and exhilarating in the agreeable and dazzling virtuosic Sept variations.

Splendidly performed and recorded in Vienna this volume in the continuing series shows no sign of flagging. Luisi is an excellent choice in these undemanding early Romantic piano arrangements so radiant with Italian sunshine.

Michael Cookson 



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