Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Opera Paraphrases
Rigoletto; Quartet (Verdi) [6:59]
Aida; Sacred Dance and Final Duet (Verdi) [9:37]
Il Trovatore; Miserer (Verdi) [7:48]
Simon Boccanegra; Réminiscences of Boccanegra (Verdi) [10:07]
The Flying Dutchman; Spinning Song (Wagner) [6:04]
Lohengrin; Prelude to Act III and Wedding March [10:57]
Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Chamber Fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen (Sonatina No.6) [8:03]
Bonus Tracks;
Encore 1; ‘Once Upon A Time’; An introduction to Liszt’s Rigoletto, narrated by Jerome Lowenthal [2:00]
Encore II; ‘A little narration of my own’; Introduction and performance of Liszt’s Rigoletto [8:25]
Jerome Lowenthal (piano)
rec. c.1981 for RCA LP; Bonus tracks recorded live in Santa Barbara, Music Academy of the West, 1981
LP CLASSICS 1003 [70:03]
To mark pianist Jerome Lowenthal’s 80th birthday, LP Classics has restored his c.1981 RCA recording of Liszt opera paraphrases. Busoni’s Chamber Fantasy on Carmen makes for an appropriate disc-mate. This is no act of piety, as its reappearance makes abundantly clear what a colossal technician and colourist Lowenthal was. Thirty years, as with all the best recordings, have scarcely dimmed the brimstone, wit and digital brilliance enshrined within.
Seldom will one hear such legerdemain as one finds in the Rigoletto Quartet paraphrase, but this co-exists with a supple lyricism that seduces, alongside the bravado that conquers. The secret - one of the secrets - of Lowenthal’s success is his ability to play off-song with bravura. The envoi sees the sparks a-flying. Darker voicings are to be heard in the Aida paraphrase whilst in Il Trovatore, one witnesses a dizzying control of balanced voicings and colours, an explosive theatre in which vocalised ferment is always evident. His Simon Boccanegra paraphrase possesses great legato refinement amidst the drama; well balanced chording, apposite pedalling, a performance of all-round excellence that never courts nonchalance. The precision and prowess of his Wagner Flying Dutchman extract, a paraphrase of the Spinning Song, is accomplished via outstanding articulation.
No less accomplished is the Busoni piece, often called his Sonatina No.6. Whether you prefer Sonatina or Chamber Fantasy, the result, in Lowenthal’s hands, is an Egon Petri-like ability to get to the heart of things. Vitality and verve are inter-connected with a chiselled sense of the music’s sense of direction. At all times, his panache is allied, as it most definitely is in the Verdi and Wagner paraphrases, with a sense of where the music is going. Bravura without structural surety soon becomes wearying. Fortunately, Lowenthal possesses both qualities.
The bonus tracks consist of two ‘encores’. The first is the pianist’s spoken introduction to Liszt’s Rigoletto and the longer second extract is his spoken (different) introduction and performance of the same work. Both were recorded in 1981 on what sounds to have been a portable cassette player. The sound is only so-so but Lowenthal provokes much laughter, adding drollery to his arsenal of skills.
There are no notes. There is a booklet with some delightful photographs, charting Lowenthal from youth to elder statesman years.
Jonathan Woolf

Seldom will one hear such legerdemain.