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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Les Préludes - Symphonic Poem No. 3, S.97, (1848/54) [14:26]
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major, S.124 (1830-49, rev. 1853, 1856) [17:56]
Piano Concerto No.2 in A major, S.125 (1839-40, rev. 1849, 1861) [19:08]
Hungaria - Symphonic Poem No. 9: S.103, (1854) [14:45]
Andor Földes (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig (Les Préludes, Concertos)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner (Hungaria)
rec. 14 November 1951 (Les Préludes), 26-27 February 1953 (Concerto No.1), 28 February 1953 (Concerto No.2), 31 October 1952 (Hungaria)

Experience Classicsonline

Guild Historical specialises in restoring and reissuing fascinating material from the vaults of the large record companies. Here it has unearthed all of Deutsche Grammophon’s orchestral Liszt recordings from the 1950s and presented them on this single disc in this the year of the Liszt bicentenary. These recordings were made with, what was at the time, state of the art fidelity and Guild have re-mastered the sound superbly. No information is given about any of the recording venues.

The conductors Leopold Ludwig and Ferdinand Leitner left a substantial legacy of recordings yet both have fallen under the radar in recent decades. Many of their recordings both mono and stereo have yet to be transferred to CD. After the war both conductors adopted a fairly low profile tending to concentrate on conducting in opera houses rather than pursuing international conducting careers. I recall reading that Ludwig was sentenced to eighteen months in prison (suspended) owing to having concealed his Nazi party membership.

In the concertos the soloist is the Hungarian-born American Andor Földes who studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Later Földes anglicised his name to Foldes. In 1947 he gave the New York premičre of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall a work he recorded together with the Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra to significant acclaim for Hungaroton. Noteworthy amongst his wide discography is a Deutsche Grammophon set of Bartók piano scores.

Liszt made the first sketches for his Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major in 1830, undertaking serious work in Rome around 1839-40. He seems to have completed it around 1849, making revisions in 1853 and more adjustments again in 1856. Dedicated to the piano virtuoso and composer Henry Litolff it would be hard to imagine more eminent performers at its 1855 premičre at the Ducal Palace in Weimar, Germany when the composer was soloist under the baton of Hector Berlioz. Musicologist Jay Rosenblatt has described the Piano Concerto No.1 as, “Dionysian.” Liszt biographer Humphrey Searle wrote that the E flat major Concerto, “is not an entirely successful work” believing the Piano Concerto No.2 major to be very much more successful”. However, it is this first Concerto that has proved more popular in the recording studio. Liszt provides unity within the four sections of the score by employing several shared themes in “thematic transformation”. The inclusion of the triangle in the third section has been the cause of some ridicule by detractors over the years and influential Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick sarcastically dubbed it the “Triangle Concerto”, a nickname now used, if at all, with affection rather than cynicism.

The pianism brings out the contrasts with poetry and refinement alongside bravura display. I loved the grandeur of the opening movement; it sets the mood splendidly. Földes’s lightness of touch in the Quasi Adagio makes for a magical atmosphere. In the Allegretto Vivace the triangle is actually audible which is rare. Here Földes is elegant and rather captivating. There is tremendous drama in the Finale, Allegro marziale animato with both soloist and orchestra showing considerable dash and power.

Liszt began composing his Piano Concerto No.2 in A major in 1839 making revisions in 1849 and 1861. The first performance was given with Liszt conducting his pupil Hans Bronsart (von Schellendorff) as soloist at Weimar in 1857. To highlight the symphonic nature of the score it was named in the manuscript as a “Concerto Symphonique”. The A major Concerto is designed in one single continuous movement, divided into six sections, once again connected by the use of “thematic transformation”. The writer Jay Rosenblatt has described the work as “Apollonian”.

One is soon struck by the wonderful drama of the opening movement - so ardent and intense. The tension created by Földes in the L’istesso tempo section was remarkable. Földes just strokes the keys with disarming ease in the Allegro moderato to achieve an effect that both sings yet is full of character. I found the forward momentum in the Allegro deciso to have great purpose with a gathering tension in the sensibly taken Sempre allegro section. The final movement Allegro animato sees Földes deliver an abundance of thrilling drama so ably assisted by Ludwig and his Berlin players.

Some years ago prior to purchasing a recording of the two Liszt Concertos I consulted most of the recognised review sources to help me navigate my way through the jungle. For those looking for modern digital recordings the most feted were the 1987 Symphony Hall, Boston accounts from Krystian Zimerman and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa on Deutsche Grammophon. The performances were certainly outstanding and worthy of all the acclaim. I have since acquired numerous other fine versions but I remain steadfast in my admiration for Zimerman’s Boston performances. Zimerman and the BSO under Ozawa project thrilling and confident readings unrivalled by other interpreters. Zimerman’s playing exudes assurance and panache with an underlying strength. One notices Zimerman’s marked and highly effective use of dynamics throughout. There’s playing of real grandeur in the slow movements and I was struck by Zimerman’s feather-light touch that just glides over the keys. I found the Presto, finale of the E flat major Concerto remarkable with Zimerman bringing the score home to a mightily impressive climax. With the A major the interpretation of the concluding Allegro animato is high voltage radiating great passion. This treasured Zimerman/Ozawa recording on Deutsche Grammophon 423 571-2 also contains an equally fine account of the exciting Totentanz (Dance of Death).

Like most of Liszt’s symphonic poems Les Préludes and Hungaria contain much exciting and dramatic writing even if they are a touch overlong. The infamous main theme of Les Préludes is highly memorable in a work that not surprisingly displays many similarities to the music of Wagner.

The third of Liszt’s Symphonic Poems Les Préludes (1848/54) is one of the most famous of the set of thirteen. Liszt’s inspiration was the solemn poem Les Préludes of Alphonse de Lamartine, in which human existence is defined as a prelude to death. During the Second World War Hitler’s Third Reich used the main theme as a signature tune to German Armed Forces radio announcements and newsreels. In some quarters there has been a longstanding resistance to performing Les Préludes as a result of the offensive associations with Nazi Germany. In 2011 the Vienna Philharmonic elected to perform it in its Summer Night Concert with Daniel Barenboim stating, “I am convinced that in our musical programming decisions, we must liberate ourselves from such negative associations, naturally without ever forgetting the original misappropriation.” Read more here from the Vienna Philharmonic website.

Somewhat surprisingly given their strong Nazi associations the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra didn’t seem to share the same reticence about performing Les Préludes. According to my copy of the Brockhaus register of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s concert programme with the Berlin Philharmonic he never performed Les Préludes after the war. However, it was recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic under Leopold Ludwig in 1951 and that performance is here. Ludwig conducts with commitment and energy. He maintains the momentum impressively in a strong and weighty performance.

Hungaria the Symphonic Poem No. 9 was completed in 1854. Liszt’s score has no programmatic element and is in effect a large-scale Hungarian Rhapsody. However it has been said that a nationalistic poem by Mihály Vörösmarty may have provided the inspiration. Liszt had first made sketches for Hungaria in 1848 which was the year of the Hungarian revolution against the Habsburg rulers. Some of the material was taken from his earlier Heroic March in Hungarian Style for piano from 1840. Ferdinand Leitner and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra recorded Hungaria in 1952 adopting a more slow-burning approach. Leitner’s interpretation is widely contrasted with no lack of spirit. His gradual cranking up of the tension and energy is done with assurance unleashing the Bambergers in the finale with searing power.

We are contending with near sixty year old sound on all four of the recordings. Not surprisingly a small amount of fidelity has been lost. The strings are missing that final sheen, the woodwind a degree of bloom and the brass sound a touch sour at times. That said the sound quality is pretty good never feeling intrusive and always with a good balance. This is a valuable reissue from Guild Historical that should form part of any serious Liszt collection.

Michael Cookson

see review by Jonathan Woolf

























































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