Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Après une lecture du Dante: fantasia quasi sonata S161 (1849) [16.57]
Confutatis and Lacrymosa (Mozart) S550 (1862) [5.06]
Ballade No. 2 in B minor S171 (1853) [15.45]
Mazeppa S139 (1851) [7.32]
Nuages Gris S199 (1881) [3.02]
Ständchen (Schubert) S560 [5.57]
Funérailles S173 (1849) [11.31]
Isolde’s Liebestod (Wagner) (1875) [8.04]
Widmung (Schumann) S566 (1858) [3.30]
Lise de la Salle (piano)
rec. January 2011, Sendesaal Bremen
NAÏVE V 5267 [77.00]

For her contribution to the Liszt bi-centenary, Lise de la Salle has chosen to play three large-scale works, four transcriptions of works by other composers, one of the most ferociously difficult of Liszt’s transcendental studies (Mazeppa) and the highly unusual Nuages Gris which is very late and described as a “gateway to modern music”. De la Salle has a prodigious technique and is a perfectionist of the keyboard giving close attention to tone colour, dynamics and phrasing.

The performances were uniformly excellent throughout this long and technically very demanding recital. I particularly liked the playing of the four transcriptions. In the ‘Lacrymosa’ (from the Mozart requiem) de la Salle deploys a vast range of textures and tone colours to imitate the choral and orchestral forces of the original. She brought out the chromatic harmonies and multi-layered textures of ‘Isolde’s liebestod’ very clearly, and sustained the final swelling and build up of sound in a gorgeous way letting the music drift into infinity. In the transcription of Schumann’s song ‘Widmung’ (referred to in the programme notes as ‘Liebeslied’) de la Salle captures the grand romantic sweep of the music. She deploys a beautiful and full tone for the transcription of Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’, and the melodic line is elegantly wrought and crafted. I thought she could have made a little more of the layered textures in ‘Ständchen’ (compare Horowitz’s performance) although this is very much a matter of taste.

Her great attention to detail in the three large-scale works is striking as well as her astonishing technique. In the Dante sonata (from the second year of Liszt’s ‘Années de Pèlerinage’) de la Salle navigates her way through the difficult pyrotechnics with ease deploying weighty octaves to depict the descent into Hell. The piece is vividly characterised and a huge amount of thought has obviously gone into the shaping and phrasing of this technically demanding material. Funérailles (from ‘Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses’) was written as a tribute to three of Liszt’s friends who died in 1848 during the Hungarian uprising against Hapsburg rule. The repeated descending octaves in the middle section - echoing Chopin’s famous Polonaise in A flat - were intended as a tribute to the Polish composer who died in October 1949. De la Salle brings power, weight and pathos to this work and the demanding middle section octaves are dispatched effortlessly. The passage-work in the B minor ballade is also carefully sculpted with exquisite refinement although I thought de la Salle seemed to linger over particular details in the slow sections which detracted a little from the overall structure and architecture.

The performance of ‘Nuages gris’ was carefully calibrated and nuanced with de la Salle rightly deploying a detached and distant tone. She puts her virtuoso credentials firmly on the table in this disc by giving an incendiary performance of ‘Mazeppa’ dispatching octave fusillades, very rapid scale passages and broken arpeggio figurations all with real alacrity. It may not be the fastest recording on disc - Berezovsky is slightly faster - but the power, attention to textual detail and digital articulation and dexterity are quite extraordinary. World class playing.

Robert Beattie

World class playing.