BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Faust Symphony, S.108 (1854, chorus added 1857) [71:45]
Dante Symphony, S.109 (1855-56) [50:09]
Dante Sonata for piano, S.161/7 (1837, rev. 1849) [16:19]
Sonata for Piano, S.178 (1852-53) [32:33]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 for orchestra, S.359/2 [11:17]
3 Verdi Paraphrases for piano:
Rigoletto Paraphrase, S.434 [7:29]
Il trovatore, Miserere, S.433 [9:33]
Aida, Danza sacra e duetto finale, S.436 [12:21]
Daniel Barenboim (piano); Plácido Domingo, tenor (S.108)
Male chorus of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin (S.108)
Women’s chorus of the Berlin Radio Choir (S.109)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (S.108, S.109, S.359/2)
rec. March/June 1998 Philharmonie Berlin (S.108); February 1992 live at Konzerthaus Berlin (S.109); July 1985 Neues Schloss, Bayreuth (S.161/7); July 1985 Haus Wahnfried Markgräfliches Theatre, Munich (S.178; S.434; S.433; S.436); June 1990 live at Waldbühne, Berlin (S.359/2)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 67440-3 [3 CDs: 71:45 + 61:29 + 78:12]
Warner Classics has issued this splendid three disc boxed set of eight Franz Liszt scores. It fetaures Daniel Barenboim as both piano soloist and conductor. These recordings were originally issued on four separate discs: the Dante Symphony and the Dante Sonata on Warner Classics 3984 22948-2; the Faust Symphony was also released on Teldec 2564 69368-9. The Piano Sonata and the 3 Verdi Paraphrases were issued on Erato ECD 75477. Recorded at a live open air concert at Berlin’s Waldbühne amphitheatre the Hungarian Rhapsody for orchestra No. 2 was issued on Teldec 2292 46329-2.
This fine selection could not have a finer advocate than Daniel Barenboim; a true giant in the classical music world today. A brilliant performer at the piano and a conductor of great renown this man lives for music. A couple of years ago in Berlin I saw him on four consecutive days: first playing as soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic; then giving a piano recital followed by conducting a performance of Tristan und Isolde at Berlin State Opera. Amazingly the next evening he attended a Schumann chamber music recital at the Rykestrasse synagogue helping out as the page turner for the pianist.
Although best known as a virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt was also highly influential as a progressive composer who according to biographer Cecil Gray created, “some of the greatest and most original masterpieces of the nineteenth century.” Prolific and versatile he produced over seven hundred scores covering most genres of which over half were for piano. Even in this the year of the two-hundredth anniversary much of his music is ignored most unjustly so. The main concentration is given to a familiar group of piano works. A number of the symphonic poems and the two piano concertos have fared well in the recording studio. However, Liszt’s songs, sacred choral music, oratorios Saint Elisabeth and Christus,and the majority of his orchestral scores are virtually absent from recital and concert hall programmes.
It is good to have Liszt’s two visionary symphonies as an integral part of this Warner Classics box set and played by distinguished forces.
From 1854 A Faust Symphony in Three Character Pictures, after Goethe, S.108 is a product of Liszt’s time as music director in Weimar the Thuringian city so closely associated with Goethe’s tragic two-part play Faust. It seems that it was Berlioz who encouraged Liszt to write a score based on the principal characters. Another influence it seems was the set of Faust pictures by Ary Scheffer, an artist who painted a renowned portrait of Liszt in 1837. Cast in three movements: Faust; Gretchen andMephistopheles, the score contains a choral conclusion entitled Chorus mysticus for tenor soloist and male chorus. Liszt added this later. Appropriately the Faust Symphony was premièred by Liszt in Weimar in 1857 to celebrate the dedication of the Goethe-Schiller statue outside the city’s National Theatre.
Recorded in the Philharmonie, Berlin the weighty opening movement Allegro is intended as a description of the troubled and anguished philosopher. Barenboim creates a heady excitement laced with tension. It has been stated that the Faust movement is actually a musical representation of the composer. Marked Andante soave the following beautiful portrait of the young Gretchen is tenderly interpreted with a convincing sense of vulnerability. Especially memorable are the colourful woodwind and glowing string section. Full of variety, colour and lyricism Mephistopheles is a mocking Scherzo marked Allegro vivace, ironico. Barenboim’s demonic depiction is persuasively thrilling and often dark and unsettling. The choral conclusion Chorus mysticus to the closing lines from Goethe’s Faust is suitably sturdy with tenor soloist Plácido Domingo simply outstanding in his brief but crucial role.
This account of the Faust Symphony is the finest available. However, I also admire the 1976 Boston, USA recording from Leonard Bernstein and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus with Kenneth Riegel (tenor) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon ‘Galleria’ 431 470-2. Another fine version is from James Conlon, the male chorus of the Slovak Philharmonic Bratislava with tenor John Aler and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded in 1983 I have the account on Erato ECD 88068 (re-issued on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 2564-61460-2). In 1992 at Berlin, Eliahu Inbal conducted a fine account of Faust with the Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus and Orchestra and tenor Jianyi Zhang. First released on Denon COCO 73007 the recording has been reissued on Brilliant Classics 92080. Simon Rattle also conducted a live recording of Faust in 1993 at the Berlin Philharmonie with the Ernst-Senff Chorus, Prague Philharmonic Chorus, tenor Peter Seiffert and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Certainly worthy of consideration that disc was available on EMI Classics CDC5 55220-2.
For his Dante Symphony Liszt was inspired by Dante’s epic poem the Divine Comedy;a legendary masterwork of literature. The poem has three sections Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). In Weimar around 1848 with his companion Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, Liszt had been sketching out his Dante Symphony undertaking the majority of the work in 1855-6. Liszt intended to follow Dante’s three sections Inferno; Purgatorio and Paradiso but was persuaded by Wagner not to attempt a musical depiction of Paradiso;in effect a musical depiction of Heaven. Liszt replaced his intended Finale with a choral movement to the opening lines of the Latin Magnificat.
Recorded at the Konzerthaus (Schauspielhaus), Berlin the ominous introduction to the Inferno is impressively dark and chilling. Barenboim interprets Liszt’s fertile and imaginative writing to inspiring effect. Affectionately played the Purgatorio has a quasi-religious character. Liszt’s follows the journey of the soul to achieve the riches of supreme blessedness. Of modest length the Magnificat is a joyous sequence with the Berlin Radio women’s chorus conveying a celestial quality. A picture of great beauty is painted which serves as the prospect of paradise rather than the kingdom of heaven itself. I recall a recent performance of the Dante Symphony in February 2011 at Manchester’s Bridgwater Hall with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda. For the Magnificat Noseda positioned the CBSO women’s chorus high up in the gallery of the auditorium. Noseda chose the version of the Magnificat that included a soprano soloist (Miriam Allan) who emerged from a high position behind the choir seats at the back of the stage.
Barenboim’s excellent version of the Dante Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic and the women’s chorus of the Rundfunkchor Berlin is outstanding. Nevertheless, I also enjoy the account from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Choeur de Concert de Helmond conducted by James Conlon. Recorded circa 1986 on Erato ECD 88162 I have the disc reissued on Warner Classics ‘Apex’ 0927-49816-2. Another well performed but often overlooked live account is from 1995 at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw from Hartmut Haenchen and the Netherlands Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra on Capriccio 10 736 now reissued on Brilliant Classics 92080.
Liszt’s Dante Sonata for piano, S.161/7 is taken from Deuxième année: Italie (Second Year: Italy), the second of a collection of three suites (or books/volumes) that form the composer’s Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). This substantial single movement score was begun in 1837 and revised over a decade later in 1849. Liszt was inspired by Dante’s famous epic poem the Divine Comedy. The full title Après une Lecture de Dante:Fantasia quasi Sonata (After a Reading of Dante:Fantasia quasi Sonata) is taken from Victor Hugo’s poem summarising the Inferno section of the poem. It is considered to be one of the most formidably difficult pieces in the standard piano repertoire. Barenboim is remarkably adept as piano soloist in this dramatic interpretation. Remarkable is Barenboim’s in the rapid change of mood and tempi creating a mounting frisson that puts one on the edge of the seat. There are many fine recordings but if I had to choose just one as an alternative to this Barenboim performance it would be the dramatic account from Aldo Ciccolini recorded in Paris in 1962 as part of a five disc Liszt box set of piano works on EMI Classics 3 67906 2.
ThePiano Sonata in B minor is acknowledged by biographer Alan Walker as a, “masterpiece” and “arguably one of the greatest keyboard works to come out of the nineteenth century” (Franz Liszt (Volume 2), ‘The Weimar Years 1848-1861’, Cornell University Press (1987) ISBN 0-8014-9721-3). A landmark of the genre itwas composed by Liszt in 1852-53. Barenboim injects considerable romantic ardour into his performance and his sincerity is never in doubt. As one would expect his playing is naturally high on technical security but also radiates an impressive nobility of spirit. Of the numerous accounts in the catalogue I can narrow down from my collection just three favourite selections. I remain a firm advocate of Jorge Bolet’s authoritative and dramatic 1982 Kingsway Hall, London interpretation. I have this on both Decca 410 115-2; on a Double Decca 444 851-2. It is also included in the 9 disc Bolet boxed set of Liszt Piano Works on Decca 467 801-2. I feel a great affection for the magnificent 1989 Herkulessaal, Munich account from Maurizio Pollini. It is played with such warmth and fondness, and a deep concentration complemented by notable sound quality. It is on Deutsche Grammophon 427 322-2.
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C minor for orchestra was written originally for solo piano around 1847. The latter formed part of a set of nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies. A number of these were orchestrated in the late 1850s including the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 - it seems by Franz Doppler and Liszt himself. According to the Liszt thematic catalogue prepared by Humphrey Searle the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 has the number S.359/2 (The Music of Liszt by Humphrey Searle, Dover Publications, second revised edition (1966)). Confusingly the booklet notes incorrectly designate the performance as being S.106/2 and also indicate that Barenboim is playing the version for solo piano. This is in fact the version for full orchestra with Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic - not credited in the annotation. The loudly enthusiastic crowd at the summer open air concert at Berlin’s Waldbühne can be clearly heard. Barenboim has ensured that the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 although rich with dark undertones is as thrillingly performed as I have heard.
I also admire the 1967 Berlin Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 from Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. This exciting performance is available on several Deutsche Grammophon issues - although a word of warning as a number of discs are incorrectly described. Although given an incorrect track number Karajan’s version of the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 is contained on my double set Deutsche Grammophon ‘Panorama’ 469 151-2.
The third disc of the set concludes with three of the paraphrases on Verdi’s operas. Liszt was prolific in this genre that allowed circulation of his adaptations of popular operatic works of the day to a wider audience. Often dismissed by some as mere trifles these are substantial scores to be taken seriously. They contain wonderful music that will provide much delight. From an extensive selection Barenboim has chosen Liszt’s paraphrases for solo piano from the Verdi operas Rigoletto, S.434, the Miserere from Il trovatore, S.433 and the Danza sacra e duetto finale from Aida, S.436. As an admirer of Verdi operas I am fond of all three scores. My particular highlight is Liszt’s 1859 paraphrase of Verdi’s Rigoletto a work of the utmost merit here confidently and ardently projected.
As an alternative to Barenboim consider Aldo Ciccolini who recorded them in 1982 and 1990 in Paris as part of that five disc set on EMI Classics 3 67906 2. On the same disc there are four other opera paraphrases one each from Wagner, Donizetti and Gounod, and another from Verdi.
In the Warner booklet the listings contain one or two sloppy errors and the label have not included any essay or sung texts whatsoever. I’m disappointed that the informative original texts were not included.
The presentation may be flawed in parts but there is no need to worry as the performances are first class. There are no problems with the sound quality which is consistently clear and well balanced. Barenboim has the advantage of the wonderful Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra who demonstrate throughout their assurance, unity and glorious sound.
Barenboim and Liszt make a perfect combination making this a desirable Warner Classics box set.
Barenboim and Liszt make a perfect combination making this a desirable Warner Classics box set.