Franz LISZT (1811 - 1886)
Complete Works for cello and piano
Elegie No. 1, S130 (1874) [4:53]
Elegie No. 2, S131 (1877) [4:37]
Romance oubliée, for viola, cello, violin and piano, S. 132 (1880) [4:04]
La Lugubre Gondola for cello and piano, S134 (1882-1885) [8:17]
Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S382 (1883) [6:15]
Consolations, Six Pensées poétiques, S. 172 arr. J. De Swert (1844-1849) [17:01]
Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 in A flat major arr. M.Skalmer [8:07]
Angelus! Prière à l'ange gardien fourth draft S162a/4 arr. L. Windsperger [4:21]
Francesco Dillon (cello) and Emanuele Torquati (piano)
rec. 10-11 January, 2011, Teatro Comunale Filippo Marchetti, Camerino Italy. DDD

The eight - very fetching - pieces on this excellent CD from Brilliant are products of Liszt's old age. They are from a time in his long life when the flourishes and tempests of his years as a virtuoso and very public figure were long behind him. Indeed, of those to which a date can positively be assigned, most come from the last half dozen years of his life. They have an air, if not of resignation or loss, then of mixed, tempered contentment. Certainly of a temperate understanding about the cycles through which life passes.

The music is almost entirely slow, gentle, always reflective, retiring and contained. For all the sadness as Liszt contemplated mortality, the composer's spark and force is there in these compositions - to afford them structure, momentum and beauty. That Dillon and Torquati work on that light in Liszt's soul, that they don't slouch into the shadows which the dim candle casts, makes this such a successful recording. The music has none of the profound introspection of late Beethoven or Schubert. It need not. Liszt's was a different, a more extrovert, more worldly, disposition. But the cellist and pianist approach these short works (only the six Consolations [tr.s 6-10] last more than a quarter of an hour - together) with sympathy and discipline. And the very act of so doing makes their performances compelling and pleasing.

The two Elégies [trs. 1,2] set the scene … dreamlike; fleeting, almost; retiring, melancholy, yet never so dauntingly impressionistic as to be musically evasive: Liszt was still Liszt. The first exists in five versions; indeed, most of the works on this CD were intended for violin (even viola) or cello and piano. The second exists as a simple acknowledgement of the positive comments made by Lina Ramann about its earlier companion. They seem to expect little. Not dour or downcast, they're both purposefully lacking in drive or vigour. As if the composer were simply … tired. The great achievement of the two players on this CD is to communicate just that mood - to convey just such a sensation without dragging or wilting themselves.

There are some memorable and stunningly beautiful tunes … that of the Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S382 [tr.5] is a good example. It haunts us in its own right long afterwards. The musical daring that can be found throughout these pieces - but is especially striking in Angelus! Prière à l'ange gardien [tr.11], for example - re-emerges in the music of composers up to fifty years after Liszt's death, notably the solo piano music of Debussy. Again, these two soloists do not overplay this: their concern is with the music which we're listening to. This piece, more than any other, has a sunny side, offers some hope … perhaps.

The two best known works are the Lugubre Gondola [tr.4], which marks Wagner's death in 1883 and the Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 in A flat major [tr.12] in an arrangement by American cellist Mark Skalmer from 1912. In their different ways - for this is all music of variety - each has an elegant blend of undeniable melancholy and square acceptance. Like the rest, this music is completely devoid of self-indulgence. So it is apt as a celebration of Liszt's bicentennial. The enterprise has respect; it consciously enters fully into the world he knew and loved.

The recording balance in places may strike some listeners less than favourably: Francesco Dillon's cello is captured significantly more forwardly placed than is Emanuele Torquati's piano, which at times seems more suitable to the role of accompanist. This doesn't always work: the lines of the cello - clean and clear though they always are - are rarely sufficient on their own to paint the musical pictures which it's obvious Liszt wants to paint.

The CD booklet is designed fully in accord with the spirit and feel of this collection. Plain, expressively written notes describe the origins of the pieces, provide brief biographies of Dillon and Torquati but only carry their pictures in subdued half-tone silhouette. The front cover has the Venetian lagoon - misty, at twilight or dawn.

Mark Sealey

Late, sad, sighing music of Liszt played expertly and without a musical tear.