Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Symphonic Poem No. 1: Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (Mountain Symphony: What one hears on the mountain) (1848-9) [32:47]
Symphonic Poem No. 5: Prometheus (1850-1) [13:27]
Symphonic Poem No. 7: Festklänge (Festival Sounds) (1853) [18:19]
Dresdner Philharmonie/Michel Plasson
rec. Dresden, 1995
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300136BC [64:33]
This wafer-thin album carries an appellation ‘Basics’. Personally, I hardly think these works, with the possible exception of Prometheus, can be listed as ‘basic’ classical music repertoire. Possibly other Liszt symphonic poems might fall into that category: Les Préludes, and Mazeppa and, perhaps, Tasso but surely not Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne or Festklänge? It would perhaps seem that Edel are stretching the term to avoid printing any notes at all. An Internet search, in this context, can be tedious and of little help.
There is controversy as to the extent of Joachim Raff’s involvement in the orchestration of Liszt’s symphonic poems but it is indisputable that he played a major role in the orchestration of some of them. Malcolm Hayes, writes: “Liszt’s procedure, in his early symphonic poems, was first to compose the music in piano score, of which Raff made a draft orchestral version. Liszt would then go over this and either before or after one or more performances, would make his own alterations with or without Raff’s help, until a final version was arrived at - which Liszt then signed as approved by him.”
These three symphonic poems demonstrate Liszt’s growing experience in the genre. His first symphonic poem, Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne based on a poem by Victor Hugo, begins impressively with an atmospheric evocation of a mist-shrouded mountain but its inflated length of over 30 minutes cannot sustain its limited ideas. Observers have expressed concern about its repetitiousness and have suggested major cuts and tightening. Yet for all that, it is worth studying - especially when there is such a satisfying performance as this. As one might expect we encounter vividly ‘pictorial’ music of majesty and natural grandeur. Other passages suggest elemental turbulence, lashing winds and blizzards as well as gentler sweeter moments. There are some interesting orchestral effects like a gong piano sounding mood transitions and imaginative trumpet and violin solos.
For a Festival in Weimar, Liszt composed an overture and eight choruses with orchestra for Johann Gottfried Herder's Der entfesselte Prometheus (Prometheus Unbound), a mythological work in thirteen scenes. It was meant to be a sequel to Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound. Herder’s production failed. In 1855 Liszt revised the overture, expanding it to a symphonic poem for first performance in October 1855. This, Liszt’s fifth symphonic poem, graphically illustrates Prometheus’s imprisonment, pain, hope and ultimate release. The music is intense and dramatic. Plasson points up its red-hot anger, stated at the outset with the well-known motif and material marked Allegro energico ed agitato assai. The work passes through moods of moving pathos for the classical hero’s torments to his steely defiance and furious determination to throw off his shackles. Again, the opening music impresses more than some lesser material that follows.
Liszt’s attractive, outgoing seventh symphonic poem, Festival Sounds has the appropriate pride and pomp mixed with joy and wit. Waltzes and rustic dance rhythms; and tender romance and wistful nostalgia are all there in the mix.
Engaging, exciting performances of some of Liszt’s lesser-known symphonic poems.  

Ian Lace